One of the University of Virginia fraternities reported Monday that it planned to sue the Rolling Stone magazine over its defamatory allegations targeting the fraternity in a now-retracted article called “A Rape on Campus.”
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity also said Monday that the article was a sample of “reckless” reporting, which greatly harmed both its public image and members’ reputation.
On Sunday, a group from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism reported that Rolling Stone failed to comply with basic journalistic safeguards.
In the 9000-word article that made the headlines last November, a former UVA female student called Jackie told a reporter how she was gang-raped during a 2012 campus party. The allegations shocked the whole campus, students rioted and protested against the fraternity and the fraternity house was vandalized.
Stephen Scipione, the president of Phi Kappa Psi, said that the UVA fraternity and its members were clearly defamed. But the fraternity’s main concern is that some rape victims would choose to remain in the shadows due to that entire episode, Mr. Scipione also said.
Also, the Columbia’s report revealed Sunday that the magazine failed to verify Jackie’s story with three of her friends and did not confront the fraternity with details on the gang rape before publishing the article.
One month later, Charlottesville police investigators reported that they found no evidence on the alleged gang rape. Rolling Stone also apologized for the “discrepancies” in its story.
On Monday, fraternity member couldn’t tell when the lawsuit would be filed or provide more details on its content. But the fraternity was very upset that media still uses images of its vandalized house as a symbol of campus rape.
Rolling Stone refuses to comment on the announcement, but it did publish an article – ‘A Rape on Campus:’ What Went Wrong? – in which the managing director publicly apologized for the harm done and published in full the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s report.
But in order to prevail in the lawsuit, Phi Kappa Psi will have to follow a series of steps. First, it would have to prove that the story was false and that its reputation was hurt accordingly. Next it would have to prove that the magazine was negligent in its November article’s reporting.
Moreover, if the court rules that the fraternity is a public figure, it would also have to demonstrate that Rolling Stone was either reckless or malicious. Rebecca Tushnet, a law professor at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, believes that the lawsuit would very much turn on recklessness.
Prof. Tushnet also said that fraternity members could sue but it would be hard to prevail since none of them was clearly identified by editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who wrote the article. On the other hand, the University of Virginia will not be able to sue for defamation because it is a government entity.
Rolling Stone will be defended in court by Davis Wright Tremaine, a respected law firm with vast expertise in lawsuits involving media organizations. The firm declined to comment on the incoming suit.
Image Source: Charleston Daily Mail