Malice Like A Rolling Stone

A short one today, but this is a big deal.  Your “holy shit” moment of the day comes from Judge Glen Conrad, who recently issued an opinion sending Nicole Eramo’s defamation case against Rolling Stone Magazine to trial.  The judge found a material question of fact existed for a jury to consider if Rolling Stone acted “with malice” in publishing the now-debunked Sabrina Rubin-Erdley story “A Rape On Campus.”

Nicole Eramo sued Rolling Stone for defamation in the wake of the article’s publication, addendum, then retraction after “A Rape On Campus” had been exposed as a “journalistic failure” and the claims of “Jackie’s” rape “wholly unsubstantiated” following a police investigation.  Both sides moved for summary judgment.  It didn’t look good for Nicole Eramo, as she was considered a “public official, public figure, or limited-purpose public figure.”  That meant a higher standard for the case kicked in, and Eramo would have to show by clear and convincing evidence that “A Rape On Campus” wasn’t just publishing false statements that harmed her.  Eramo had the added burden of showing Rolling Stone published these false statements with “malice,” defined at a bare minimum as “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Surprisingly, the Court found there was a question of fact over whether Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus” with “reckless disregard for the truth.”  The opinion notes evidence that shows a reasonable jury could see Sabrina Rubin-Erdley “had obvious reasons to doubt [Jackie’s] veracity” or “entertained serious doubts as to the truth of (her) publication.” The story pitch could be construed as a designed to overlook contradictory evidence.  Rubin-Erdley didn’t investigate some of the named sources at the heart of the story.  Worse still for Rolling Stone, evidence exists their fact-checker was aware of inconsistencies in the story and “Jackie’s version” wasn’t properly vetted.  All this goes to the judge finding a material question for a jury’s consideration on whether this was “reckless disregard for the truth,” and therefore the “actual malice” needed for the defamation suit to proceed.

This is a big win for Nicole Eramo, and poses an interesting scenario going forward.  We now know the media regularly ignores facts and simply works with a pre-determined narrative.  If Rolling Stone has to pay Nicole Eramo as a result of this suit, it could set a precedent for other courts.  Not properly checking sources, publishing information that simply isn’t true, and sloppily copying from the AP’s Big Story could put publications and journalists at risk for defamation suits in ways we’ve not seen before.

Stay tuned.

h/t Robby Soave

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