Rolling Stone’s ‘worst night­mare’ con­tin­ues

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Days af­ter Rolling Stone mag­a­zine pub­lished a shock­ing 9,000word story about a bru­tal gang rape at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia in Novem­ber 2014, the mag­a­zine’s ed­i­tors re­ceived an email just be­fore 2 am with “Our worst night­mare” in the sub­ject line. They needed to run a re­trac­tion, the re­porter said. In­stead, Rolling Stone kept the ar­ti­cle on its web­site for four months be­fore fi­nally pulling it down that April and of­fi­cially re­tract­ing the story.

That de­ci­sion was enough to con­vince a fed­eral jury in Char­lottesville on Fri­day that the mag­a­zine de­famed a univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tor, who claimed she was cast as the “chief vil­lain” in the now-dis­cred­ited story “A Rape on Cam­pus.” The 10-per­son jury found also found that jour­nal­ist Sab­rina Ru­bin Erdely and the mag­a­zine’s pub­lisher were re­spon­si­ble for li­bel, with ac­tual mal­ice.

Eramo claimed the ar­ti­cle falsely said she dis­cour­aged the woman iden­ti­fied only as “Jackie” from re­port­ing the in­ci­dent to po­lice. A po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion found no ev­i­dence to back up Jackie’s claims about be­ing raped. Eramo was seek­ing $7.5 mil­lion from her law­suit. Ju­rors are ex­pected to re­turn to court next week to de­cide how much to award her.

Dis­trust of press

The de­ci­sion comes at a time when the pub­lic’s dis­trust of the press runs deep and is the lat­est in a year that brought large judg­ments against other me­dia out­lets. In March, for­mer pro wrestler Hulk Ho­gan won a $140 mil­lion in­va­sion-of-pri­vacy ver­dict against Gawker for post­ing a sex tape of him. Gawker set­tled with Ho­gan for $31 mil­lion this month. Last month, The News & Ob­server of Raleigh was or­dered to pay about $6 mil­lion in a State Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion agent’s li­bel law­suit.

Sa­man­tha Bar­bas, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Buf­falo, said it ap­pears that me­dia out­lets are be­ing threat­ened with and hit with more law­suits than ever, and ju­ries seem more will­ing to side with peo­ple who claim they’ve been in­jured by the press. “The cli­mate seems to be one where peo­ple, es­pe­cially pub­lic fig­ures, don’t fear tak­ing on the press as they might have in the past,” said Bar­bas, who stud­ies the in­ter­sec­tion of the First Amend­ment, cul­ture, me­dia and pri­vacy.

The mag­a­zine also faces a $25 mil­lion defama­tion law­suit from the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fra­ter­nity, where Jackie claimed her sex­ual as­sault took place. Be­cause the judge de­ter­mined that Eramo was a pub­lic fig­ure, she had to prove Rolling Stone made state­ments with “ac­tual mal­ice,” mean­ing it knew that what it was writ­ing about her was false or en­ter­tained se­ri­ous doubts about whether it might be true.

Ju­rors found that the mag­a­zine and its pub­lisher, Wen­ner Me­dia, acted with ac­tual mal­ice be­cause they re­pub­lished the ar­ti­cle on Dec 5 af­ter they knew about the prob­lems with Jackie’s story. The mag­a­zine put an edi­tor’s note on top of the story that day ac­knowl­edg­ing its re­port­ing mis­takes, but did not use the word re­trac­tion and kept the story on­line. Rolling Stone’s at­tor­neys ar­gued that the edi­tor’s note was ef­fec­tively a re­trac­tion, but ju­rors re­jected that idea. The mag­a­zine did not say it was of­fi­cially re­tract­ing the ar­ti­cle un­til the fol­low­ing April.

Ac­tual mal­ice

The jury also found that Erdely acted with ac­tual mal­ice on six claims: two state­ments in the ar­ti­cle and four state­ments to me­dia out­lets af­ter the story was pub­lished. In one in­stance, Erdely wrote in the story that Eramo had a “non­re­ac­tion” when she heard from Jackie that two other women were also gan­graped at the same Vir­ginia fra­ter­nity. Libby Locke, an at­tor­ney for Eramo, said she and her client are pleased with the de­ci­sion. “The jury’s ver­dict is a com­plete vin­di­ca­tion of Nicole Eramo, and a com­plete re­pu­di­a­tion of Rolling Stone’s and Ms Erdely’s false and defam­a­tory ar­ti­cle,” Locke said in an email. In a state­ment Fri­day, Rolling Stone apol­o­gized to Eramo and oth­ers im­pacted by the ar­ti­cle. A spokes­woman for the mag­a­zine said she couldn’t say whether it plans to ap­peal the de­ci­sion.”It is our deep hope that our fail­ings do not de­flect from the per­va­sive is­sues dis­cussed in the piece, and that re­port­ing on sex­ual as­sault cases ul­ti­mately re­sults in cam­pus poli­cies that bet­ter pro­tect our stu­dents,” the mag­a­zine said.

David S Ar­dia, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of law and co-di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Me­dia Law and Pol­icy at the UNC School of Law, said the mag­a­zine’s state­ment Fri­day sug­gests it is likely to ul­ti­mately set­tle rather than ap­peal the ver­dict. “Most de­fen­dants is­sue a state­ment say­ing they plan to fight at ev­ery level of ap­peal pos­si­ble,” but that’s not what Rolling Stone said on Fri­day, he said. De­fen­dants con­test the jury’s rul­ing be­cause they of­ten win on ap­peal even when they lose in front of the jury, Ar­dia said. But in this case, there is a great deal of ev­i­dence that seems to point to

sig­nif­i­cant doubt about the story - not in the re­porter’s mind but in ed­i­tors’ minds - at the time the story was pub­lished, he said.— AP

CHAR­LOTTESVILLE: Univer­sity of Vir­ginia ad­min­is­tra­tor Nicole Eramo, left, lis­tens to at­tor­ney Libby Locke, right, speak with the me­dia out­side the fed­eral court­house. — AP

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