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Jurors Award $3 Million In Damages In Defamation Suit Against Rolling Stone

University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo  leaves federal court after closing arguments in her defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine in Charlottesville, Va., last week.

A jury on Monday awarded $3 million to a University of Virginia administrator who was defamed in a Rolling Stone magazine piece about an alleged gang rape on campus.

As the Two-Way has reported, the widely disseminated story soon began to fall apart:

"The trial centered on a November 2014 piece by reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely that told the story of a student, identified as "Jackie," who said she was brutally gang raped at a fraternity party in 2012.

"The shocking article quickly went viral and opened a national debate about how colleges handle allegations of rape. A U.Va. administrator sued Erdely, the magazine and publisher Wenner Media for $7.85 million over how she was portrayed in the piece. She later reduced that amount to $7.5 million." ...

"Several outlets, including The Washington Post, identified major inconsistencies in the reporting," as The Two-Way has reported. Rolling Stone retracted the piece the following April, "saying the magazine had relied too much on Jackie's' account and did not adequately work to confirm her story."

University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo said she had been wrongly accused in the article of being uncaring in the face of a brutal attack, and filed a lawsuit against the magazine.

As the Associated Press reports:

"Eramo sued the magazine for $7.5 million, claiming it cast her as a villain who sought to discourage the woman identified only as Jackie from reporting her alleged assault to police. A police investigation found no evidence to back up Jackie's rape claims....

"Eramo told jurors that after the story's publication, she had trouble sleeping, feared for her safety and struggled with how to explain what was happening to her then-7-year-old son. One day, she crawled under her desk and contemplated suicide as she felt her world come crashing down around her, she said. Her husband testified that she told him: 'I don't know that I can live anymore.'

" 'I just wanted to disappear,' said Eramo, who cried throughout much of her testimony. 'I didn't know how it was going to be OK.' "

Rolling Stone later commissioned a study by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to determine what went wrong. NPR's David Folkenflik reported that the April 2015 report found "repeated, fundamental errors in the magazine's reporting and editing process."

" 'It was a systematic failing and it involved basically every level of Rolling Stone's newsroom. The reporter and the editor on the front lines, but also policies and supervision failed,' Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, told NPR. 'The thing that most struck us was how avoidable it was and how there were several paths not taken — paths that you would associate with basic tradecraft, and any one of which might have caused Rolling Stone to pause and go the other way.' "

Last week, jurors found the reporter and the publisher were liable for defaming Eramo. On Monday, according to the AP, "Jurors awarded $2 million to Eramo for statements made by Erdely and $1 million for the republication of the article by Rolling Stone and Wenner Media. Rolling Stone could appeal the verdict."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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