Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lawsuit against Rolling Stone by UVa dean will provide a lesson to journalists and bloggers in defamation law

The Washington Post on Saturday published an account by T. Rees Shapiro, of Rolling Stone’s denial that it had defamed associate dean Nicole Eramo at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, following on its coverage of a claimed fraternity gang rape on campus.  The link is here
The Washington Post has a Scribd embed of the legal complaint here.  It was filed in Virginia Circuit court.   The Scribd element offers Embed code but it would not load for some reason.  The plaintiff seeks $7.5 million in damages.  Rolling Stone’s reply was submitted in accordance with Virginia court procedures within a specified deadline.  It’s interesting that it seems to be filed in a state court rather than federal.
The magazine has apologized, but says that the story, “A Rape on Campus”, by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was published without “malice” and knowledge of (apparent) falsehood or inaccuracy.  See a New York Times account by Ravi Somaiya here
Generally, libel or defamation cases can be triggered if actual falsehood was published (regardless of intent or malice or knowledge) and it the information would normally be harmful to the individual or party written about.  That idea surfaces in another context, the troubling litigation concerning negative reviews on sites.  These sorts of suits have not been that common with blogs, but that is something that could happen, depending on the mindset and motives of a potential plaintiff.

Picture: downtown Charlottesville, Sept. 2013, one mile from campus 

Update: Aug. 1

Some fraternity associates have also sued, according to many sources, such as Business Insider, here.

The Rolling Stone editor is also reported as removed, here.

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