July 29, 2015 / 9:51 PM / 4 years ago

Virginia college graduates sue Rolling Stone over rape story

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three University of Virginia graduates on Wednesday filed a defamation lawsuit in New York against Rolling Stone magazine, its publisher Wenner Media and a journalist over a now-debunked 2014 article describing a fraternity gang rape.

The three men, all 2013 graduates and members of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity at the center of the story, claim the magazine was negligent in publishing an article entitled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rudin Erdely. They are seeking damages for defamation and infliction of emotional distress.

Rolling Stone apologized in December for “discrepancies” in the account, after the story sparked a national debate over sexual violence on college campuses.

A review by the Columbia University journalism school commissioned by Rolling Stone and released in April cited the magazine for reporting and editing lapses.

One of the graduates who filed the lawsuit, George Elias IV, said he lived in the room where the alleged crime took place.

“Upon release of the article, family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers and reporters easily matched Plaintiff as one of the alleged attackers and, among other things, interrogated him, humiliated him, and scolded him,” the lawsuit says.

The two other graduates, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler, said they suffered similar attacks after their names and hometowns were listed in online blogs by anonymous users.

“Plaintiffs have each suffered emotional turmoil, were entirely unable to focus at work and in school following release of the article and are still being questioned often about the article’s accusations,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit follows a $7.85 million libel lawsuit filed in May against the same three parties by Nicole Eramo, UVA’s associate dean of students and top administrator in dealing with sexual assaults. Eramo in the lawsuit said she was defamed in the article, which falsely claimed she was indifferent to Jackie’s allegations and tried to persuade her not to report the rape.

Elizabeth McNamara, an attorney with New York’s Davis Wright Tremaine LLP representing Rolling Stone, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rolling Stone is owned by Jann Wenner, who founded it in 1967 as a counterculture-oriented magazine. A Charlottesville police investigation found no evidence that Jackie had been gang-raped.

The magazine has said it would commit itself to recommendations made in the Columbia review, and Erdely has apologized.

Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Bill Rigby and Andrew Hay

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