The entire “Rape on Campus” debacle has taken its place in history as one of the epic failures of journalism in an already troubled era for the media. (Assuming, of course, that you’re willing to lump Rolling Stone magazine in the same deplorable basket with words like “journalism.”) When the first defamation lawsuit ended it sounded like the court had sent a powerful message to the magazine, as well as the entire industry. But if you thought this sordid story was over, think again. Rolling Stone’s lawyers are back in court claiming that the jury treated them unfairly and asking for the settlement to be tossed out. (Washington Post)
Lawyers representing Rolling Stone have asked a federal judge to overrule a jury’s decision that the magazine defamed a University of Virginia administrator in a retracted account of a fraternity gang gape.
The motion filed in federal court Monday came a month after a 10-member jury found Rolling Stone and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely responsible for defaming former U-Va. dean Nicole Eramo in an article about campus sex assault published online in Nov. 2014. The jury awarded Eramo $3 million in November.
This argument is rather nuanced to say the least, but it also sounds like a question which was both asked and answered in the civil suit. At issue is the fact that the magazine reprinted the article after the story began falling apart, including an appended editor’s note saying that the magazine no longer stood behind Jackie as a source. The jury found the fact that the story was released again at all as evidence that the smears against Nicole Eramo reached an even wider audience. In the end it took a full six months before Rolling Stone finally issued a complete retraction and by that time the damage had been done.
While nothing is impossible, it sounds like a stretch to ask the judge to completely reject the jury’s conclusions. If there was some new evidence being introduced or it could be proven that the court failed to supply the jury with proper information to answer the question I could see a judge entertaining the request. But in this case we’re talking about evidence which was presented in full along with an opportunity for the jury to decide for themselves what the impact was. That issue was answered to the tune of three million dollars.
I don’t expect Rolling Stone to back down at this point, but the real damage they’ve sustained probably isn’t coming in the form of a hit to their bank account. Rolling Stone’s “journalism” outside the realm of reviewing musicians is famously biased and dubious at the best of times. The “Jackie” story just brought that idea to the attention of a lot more people.