Long troubled culture magazine, Rolling Stone is facing another round in court, this time another defamation case, over its bumbling of the ‘A Rape on Campus’ story published in 2014 by Sabrina Erdely that describes a purported group sexual assault at the University of Virginia.
Rolling Stone retracted the story in its entirety on April 5, 2015 and has faced numerous legal proceedings, millions in settlements and a hit to its journalistic integrity in the eyes of many readers.
The article claimed that a UVA student, identified only as “Jackie” by the magazine, had been taken to a party hosted by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity by a fellow student. At the party, Jackie alleged in the article, her date led her to a bedroom where she was raped by several fraternity members as part of an initiation rite.
Despite a clear lack of supporting evidence, Rolling Stone ran with the article which generated a media firestorm, suspension of the fraternity and open dialogue about rape on university campuses. However, as media speculation mounted and investigative reporters dug in, there was little there to justify its credibility.
In the end, the story was found to have been made up by “Jackie” for attention, but not before a great deal of threat and criticism had been waged against the University, members of the fraternity and the fraternity system in general.
Several lawsuits were filed and won after Rolling Stone retracted the article and issued apologies for the incident, but these lawsuits were eventually rejected. On November 9, 2015, Phi Kappa Psi filed a $25 million lawsuit against Rolling Stone in state court “to seek redress for the wanton destruction caused to Phi Kappa Psi by Rolling Stone’s intentional, reckless, and unethical behavior.” On June 13, 2017, the lawsuit was settled for $1.65 million. Another lawsuit had been dismissed.
However, the saga took a different turn today, just a day after Rolling Stone publisher Jan Wenner announced plans to sell the magazine. A 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals judge has found that decided that “the lower court prematurely struck down claims from George Elias and Ross Fowler.”
“While it is a close call, we conclude on balance that the complaint plausibly alleged that the purportedly defamatory statements in the Article were ‘of and concerning’ Elias and Fowler individually,” Judge Katherine Forrest wrote in an opinion. “At this stage of the litigation, Plaintiffs need only plead sufficient facts to make it plausible—not probable or even reasonably likely—that a reader familiar with each Plaintiff would identify him as the subject of the statements at issue. With regard to the Article, Elias and Fowler have met this burden.”
The 2nd Circuit court also ruled that a group defamation lawsuit from the entire fraternity could go forward, saying the headcount of its 53 members is “sufficiently small” to make a case.
Sources told the New York Post that the music, politics and pop culture magazine is struggling to attract potential buyers as consumers are increasingly straying away from purchasing glossy print titles at newsstands.