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Former UVA Phi Psis Sue Rolling Stone For Defamation

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In November of 2014, Rolling Stone published a damaging column about a disturbing rape culture that existed among UVA fraternities.

The column, which singled out UVA Phi Psi as one of its culprits, sparked national outrage from both Greeks and anti-Greeks across the country. In the days that followed, Greek life at UVA came to a grinding halt, the Phi Psi house was vandalized, and members of that fraternity were ostracized from the rest of the UVA community.

But it didn’t take long for the story to fall apart.

The reporting was questioned by other major media outlets, including the Washington Post and New York Times, about the methods by which its author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, investigated and obtained the information for her story. It quickly became clear Erdely had not done her due diligence before publishing — a major, and perhaps career-ruining, mistake.

Rolling Stone eventually issued a retraction and apology, but not before the damage was done. Phi Psi and UVA’s reputation were irreparably damaged by the contents of Rolling Stone’s story.

Fast-forward eight months and Rolling Stone is still feeling the effects. According to Fox News, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, Will Dana, is leaving the magazine after 19 years.

When asked whether Dana’s departure was linked to the retracted story, a spokeswoman for the magazine’s publisher, Jann Wenner, said that “many factors go into a decision like this,” according to the report.

Dana is not leaving for a new job and Rolling Stone has not named his replacement, the Times said.

On Wednesday, three former members of Phi Psi filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone for defamation and infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit also names Erdely and Rolling Stone’s publishing company, Wenner Media, as defendants.

From The New York Times:

Three former members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone on Wednesday for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, saying the magazine’s discredited article on a campus gang rape had a “devastating effect” on their reputations.

Friends, family members and acquaintances were able to identify George Elias IV as one of the accused attackers based on details in the article, including the location of a bedroom that was described as the setting of the assault, the lawsuit said. They “interrogated him, humiliated him, and scolded him,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in United States District Court in New York.

The two other plaintiffs, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler, faced embarrassment and distress that “emotionally wrecked” them, the lawsuit said. All three have graduated from Virginia.

“Plaintiffs have each suffered emotional turmoil, were entirely unable to focus at work and in school following the release of the article, and are still being questioned often about the article’s accusations,” the lawsuit said.

In May, Nicole P. Eramo, an associate dean of students, filed a defamation suit against Rolling Stone, saying the article portrayed her as discouraging the reporting of sexual assault to protect the university’s reputation. She is seeking nearly $8 million in damages.

It’ll be interesting to see where this story goes from here, but one thing is certain: Rolling Stone is going to have some debts to pay.

[via New York Times]

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