Rolling Stone editor quits as lawsuit arrives

Beleaguered editor Will Dana will leave Rolling Stone in the next two weeks, the first head to publicly roll after running wildly false claims about a purported “rape culture” at the University of Virginia. The magazine faces a number of lawsuits, including one filed late yesterday by three members of the fraternity the magazine put at the center of a massive hoax. Despite getting ripped in great detail by investigators from the Columbia School of Journalism for violating its own editorial procedures and standards, publisher Jann Wenner has fired no one, not even the author of the hoax, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. At least, not until now:

The editor who oversaw Rolling Stone magazine’s erroneous story about a fraternity gang rape at the University of Virginia will leave the magazine, more than eight months after the story was published.

Will Dana, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, will step down next month after nearly two decades at the magazine. His departure comes amid a series of defamation lawsuits against the magazine as a result of its publication in November of “A Rape on Campus,” which described an alleged gang rape that authorities determined never occurred. …

Follow-up reporting by The Washington Post and other news outlets subsequently found that virtually every major detail in the story was inaccurate. A subsequent investigation by officials at Columbia University’s journalism school found numerous flaws in the reporting, editing and fact-checking of the article. Police in Charlottesville also said they found no evidence of a crime.

Upon publication of the Columbia investigation, Dana wrote: “This report was painful reading, to me personally and to all of us at Rolling Stone. … With its publication, we are officially retracting ‘A Rape on Campus.’… We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students.”

Dana’s apology did not suffice, needless to say. Nicole Eramo, the UVA dean noted in the article, has already filed a $7.5 million lawsuit for actual and punitive damages for Erdely’s characterization of her in the article, but that won’t be the end of Wenner’s legal problems. Three members of the fraternity attacked by Erdely and Rolling Stone filed a suit of their own yesterday for defamation, leaving the amount of damages open-ended:

Three members of a University of Virginia fraternity sued Rolling Stone magazine Wednesday for a discredited story accusing frat members of gang raping a woman.

The suit also names the magazine’s publisher, Wenner Media, and the reporter, Sabrina Erdely.

The suit was filed in Manhattan federal court on behalf of George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler. The three men, who graduated in 2013, were members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity that was cited in the Rolling Stone story.

They are seeking unspecified damages for defamation.

With that following Dana around, he’s probably going to be looking for work for a while … or maybe not. Based on this clip from WCAV this morning, perhaps Dana will be hailed as a hero for abetting journalistic fraud. After all, it’s the right kind of journalistic fraud, and that’s what matters:

“When asked if [editor Will] Dana’s departure is linked to the now-discredited article,” WCAV’s anchor notes, “Rolling Stone’s publisher said, quote: ‘Many factors go into a decision like this.'” Right after that, though, WCAV then tacitly endorses the “Fake But Accurate” standard with this line: “Despite its flaws, the Rolling Stone heightened scrutiny of campus sexual assault amid a campaign by President Barack Obama.”

Its flaws? It was entirely false — a hoax, a fraud. In fact, as Reason’s Linda LeFauve reported two days ago, the entire intellectual basis for claiming that a “rape culture” exists on college campuses has been debunked. We’ll have more on this later, but WCAV shows just how attractive the “fake but accurate” approach is to the media, once they’ve found something that conforms to their worldview and agenda. For WCAV, it doesn’t matter that the entire story was a hoax and that it ruined the lives of innocent people — just as long as it “heightened scrutiny” of their favored moral panic, and also managed to help out President Barack Obama.

Update: Yesterday’s lawsuit was one, not three, filed on behalf of the three members jointly. Thanks to Gabriel Malor for the correction.