One aspect of the saga of the disastrous UVA gang rape article that was published by Rolling Stone is nearing a conclusion. Closing arguments have been completed and the defamation case brought by UVA Dean Nicole Eramo is being sent to the jury.
Prior to trial the court ruled that Dean Eramo is a limited purpose public figure for the purpose of proving her defamation claim. In order for Dean Eramo to prevail she needs to prove that Rolling Stone in publishing the article and its characterization of her knew that its statements were false or that they acted with a reckless disregard for the truth of the statements (I take as a given that the article cast Dean Eramo in a negative light and was injurious to her reputation).
Although the “actual malice” standard is a very difficult bar to meet for a defamation claim, my belief is Dean Eramo has a very significant chance of prevailing in her case and Rolling Stone will be found liable. It will not take a stretch for the jury to find that Rolling Stone (and its author) acted with a reckless disregard for the truth. This assessment is based primarily of the grounds that there were significant deviations from normal journalistic standards in accepting at face value “Jackie’s” gang rape story. There were aspects of “Jackie’s” story that cried out for the further fact checking to be done, for instance that a professional dean would act so callously towards a rape victim and further that fellow students when told of the gang rape acted with a complete disregard for “Jackie’s” well-being and whose only concern was how this event (if reported) would hinder their ability to attend fraternity parties. It was only after the Washington Post started investigating the Rolling Stone article, using what I will say were more conventional journalistic standards, that the Rolling Stone article begin to unravel.
My hunch is that it will not take long, no later than the end of the day Friday, for the jury to return a verdict for Dean Eramo.