Rolling Stone is still suffering the consequences of having failed to follow standard journalistic practices in its publication of a sensational, and ultimately discredited, story about “a rape on campus” that never happened. But this week, one legal component of that fallout finally came to an end, with the magazine reaching a confidential settlement with the former associate dean smeared in the now fully retracted story.
After the November 2014 story unraveled, former University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo sued Rolling Stone and the story’s author Sabrina Rubin Erdely for defamation of character. Erdely, Eramo’s lawyers argued, allowed her desire to write a sensational story about the so-called “rape culture” on college campuses override basic journalistic practices and ethics. Despite glaring inconsistencies in the rape claims of the supposed victim, “Jackie,” the magazine published her fabricated account. Eramo was cast by Erdely as a “chief villain” of the story, the embodiment of a heartless administration willing to cover up rape to protect the good name of the institution.
In her testimony, Eramo said that after Rolling Stone smeared her, she suffered massive hostility, including death threats, and the loss of professional credibility, particularly regarding her sexual-assault prevention advocacy.
Eramo won the case in November, a federal jury awarding her $3 million in damages ($2 million from Erdely and $1 million from Rolling Stone), but the magazine filed a motion to vacate the ruling. Instead of appealing, however, Rolling Stone decided to settle with Eramo.
Both parties appear to be satisfied with the conclusion of the ugly affair, Eramo’s lawyer saying they are “delighted that this dispute is now behind us” and Rolling Stone calling it an “amicable resolution.”
One of the reasons the story unraveled was the investigative work of The Washington Post, which, rather easily, proved a number of the claims false:
An investigation by The Washington Post showed that aspects of the account were not true. For example, no one in Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity in question, matched the name or description that the young woman — known as Jackie — gave for the person who allegedly was the ringleader in her 2012 assault.
A person whom Jackie had described to friends at the time as her assailant was complete fiction, according to Eramo’s attorneys, and The Post found that a photo she shared of her alleged attacker was actually of someone she knew from high school, who attended a different university out of state.
With the evidence against the story mounting, including a police report proving some of Jackie’s claims false, and the Columbia University School of Journalism determining the story to be a case study in “journalistic failure,” Rolling Stone finally retracted the story.