Rolling Stone now faces 3 lawsuits stemming from 'A Rape On Campus'

The Washington Post

A flawed story published by Rolling Stone that purported to expose a culture of rape at The University of Virginia has attracted another lawsuit. The claim, filed by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter at UVA, seeks $25 million from the magazine of pop culture and current events for "presumed damages, compensatory damages and actual damages for harm and injury to its reputation."

Phi Kappa Psi's decision to sue comes months after the publication of "A Rape On Campus," an article by Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely that portrayed the fraternity's house as the scene of a horrific gang rape. That account, which was based on testimony from a pseudonymous former student at UVA, was disputed by the fraternity and has not been corroborated by testimony from other sources. Earlier this year, Rolling Stone published a review of the story undertaken by Columbia University that called the piece "a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable."

The lawsuit is the third leveled at Rolling Stone since the publication of "A Rape on Campus." Nicole Eramo, an associate dean at UVA, sued the magazine in May for making defamatory statements "in order to present a preconceived storyline." Eramo is seeking $7.5 million from the magazine, bringing the total damages sought from the magazine to more than $30 million. In July, three members of Phi Kappa Psi sued Rolling Stone for defamation, a claim the magazine sought to dismiss.

Phi Kappa Psi's lawsuit, which takes up more than 90 pages, discloses episodes of alleged harassment that fraternity members faced after the Rolling Stone's story spread. They include death threats made against the fraternity members and their families in addition to profanity-laden abuse directed at them online:

A commenter on the Rolling Stone online version of the article wrote, "give me the names of the rapists. I will kill them. Not joking, I will straight up kill them. And while I'm at it, I'll kill their families for failing to raise them."

In the days before it unraveled, Rolling Stone's article was used as a touchstone for discussing the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses throughout the United States. As critics began calling its facts and anecdotes into question, however, it soon deteriorated into a cautionary tale for reporters and editors tackling controversial narrative-driven stories.

After the story imploded, Rolling Stone honcho Jann Wenner announced no one at the magazine would be fired for the incident. Months later, Managing Editor Will Dana left his job and was replaced by Men’s Journal editor Jason Fine.

The controversy comes as Wenner, the founder and longtime leader of Wenner Media, is gradually handing over the reins of the company to his son, Gus Wenner. The younger Wenner is said to be undertaking a digital remaking of Rolling Stone aimed at positioning the magazine for success with younger readers.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Rolling Stone was facing two lawsuits stemming from "A Rape On Campus." In fact, three complaints have been filed against the magazine.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.


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