The now-discredited Rolling Stone feature, “A Rape on Campus,” was published over a year ago. The story, which details in gripping, graphic detail the gang rape of a female student at a fraternity on the University of Virginia campus, was found through an extensive, independent investigation conducted by the Columbia School of Journalism, to have major discrepancies. An investigation conducted by the Charlottesville police did not find any evidence to support the claims of the woman in the story, referred to as “Jackie.” Rolling Stone retracted the piece; reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely apologized.
But the fallout from this failure continues. On Wednesday, Rolling Stone formally requested that a judge throw out a lawsuit filed against the magazine by three UVA fraternity members.
The three Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers claim the infamous article “created a simple and direct way to match the alleged attackers” to their real-life identities based on the information disclosed in Erdely’s story. Friends and family members of one “would have reasonably concluded” that Elias’ room was the site of the gang rape described in the piece. The men — George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler — filed their lawsuit in July. (They also sued Erdely and Rolling Stone publisher Wenner Media.)
On Wednesday, Rolling Stone lawyers filed court documents arguing this lawsuit should be dismissed. The article did not refer to the men by name, they insist, and readers would not have been able to identify these individuals. The fact that the men were defamed by virtue of being members of the fraternity named in the story doesn’t hold up, the lawyers claim. The article “cannot reasonably be read as accusing all members of these groups of committing rape.”
Even if this lawsuit gets thrown out, it won’t be the end of Rolling Stone’s “Rape on Campus”-related legal battles. The UVA Phi Kappa Psi chapter sued Rolling Stone for $25 million, and the university dean who claims she was the “chief villain” in Erdely’s story is suing Rolling Stone for over $7.5 million.