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Almost two years after the appearance of a Rolling Stone article that described a gang rape at the University of Virginia, and about a year and a half after the story was officially retracted due to a swift unraveling of its allegations, a federal court jury has found the magazine, its publisher, and the journalist liable for defaming one of the school's associate deans. Lawyers for that university employee, Nicole Eramo, argued that she was cast as the villain in a "preconceived" narrative by writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and were seeking $7.5 million in the lawsuit.

In the now-infamous 2014 article, "A Rape on Campus," Erdely reported on the case of a woman identified only as "Jackie," who said she had been gang-raped in 2012 by members of the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi as part of their initiation rites. Jackie's account, and in particular her invented description of the assault's supposed ringleader, fell apart upon closer inspection—but only after Erdely had accepted them as true in her piece, which portrayed Eramo (then the campus official who handled sexual violence claims) as indifferent to Jackie's plight.

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According to the Washington Post, one of Eramo's attorneys, Tom Clare, said that "despite Rolling Stone’s reporting, Eramo had indeed cared for Jackie in the aftermath of her alleged assault, counseling her and organizing a meeting with police detectives to help bring her attackers to justice. But Jackie refused to participate in any police investigation." Meanwhile, Scott Sexton, a lawyer for Rolling Stone, argued that although magazine had made huge errors, "[t]his young woman was very good at telling this story. Dean Eramo believed her... Yet we are the ones being tried, in a sense, for having believed her."

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The jury will now hear more evidence regarding Eramo's emotional distress and injured reputation before damages are awarded. The verdict, which categorically ascribes "actual malice" to the actions of Erdely and Rolling Stone, comes at a precarious legal moment for media organizations increasingly under fire by individuals like Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who underwrote the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker, and even presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has often incited his supporters to intimidate journalists.

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Aside from Eramo, several Phi Kappa Psi members had filed suit against Erdely and Rolling Stone over "A Rape on Campus." Although that action was dismissed this past summer, the fraternity itself, as of September, has been allowed to proceed with its own lawsuit. The chapter is seeking $25 million in damages.

Sources: The Washington Post