Eramo who counselled “Jackie” sued Erdely and Rolling Stone for $7.5
million for the discredited gang rape story. Photo / iStock
Rolling Stone magazine published a story in November 2014
describing in chilling detail a student’s account of being brutally
raped by seven men at the University of Virginia.
Several days later the magazine’s editors received an email from the reporter with the subject line “our worst nightmare”.
“We’re going to have to run a retraction,” wrote Sabrina Rubin Erdely about her now-discredited story, “A Rape on Campus”.
message is among hundreds of pages of notes, emails and other documents
released on Friday that shed light on the reporting and fallout of the
The documents were made public through a lawsuit filed by
Nicole Eramo, an associate dean of students at the university who had
counselled “Jackie,” the woman who claimed to have been raped. Eramo
sued Erdely and Rolling Stone for US$7.5 million, arguing that the story cast her as the “chief villain”.
The story described in alarming detail Jackie’s account of
being raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in
September 2012. It portrayed university officials as insensitive and
unresponsive to the plight of the student and suggested that the attack
was emblematic of a culture of sexual violence at the elite public
The story horrified university leaders, sparked
protests at the school and prompted a new round of national discussions
about sexual assault on US campuses.
But an investigation by
Charlottesville police found no evidence to back up Jackie’s claims and
details in the lengthy narrative did not hold up under scrutiny by other
Rolling Stone officially retracted the story in April 2015, and the magazine’s managing editor and Erdely both apologised.
The documents reveal inconsistencies with Jackie’s
story, whose last name is redacted in court documents, and missteps by
Erdely, who said she found no reason to believe Jackie wasn’t credible
throughout her reporting.
For example, Erdely said according to a
transcript of her deposition that she was aware that Jackie had
initially told her roommate she was attacked by five men, but later said
it was actually seven men.
Erdely also noted at one point that
Jackie’s mother’s profile on Facebook said she herself went to
Providence College, even though Jackie said her mom went to Brown. When
asked in her deposition whether that raised any red flags about Jackie’s
credibility, Erdely said “it didn’t seem to be all that important”.
said she had scars on her back from the attack, but her boyfriend said
he had never seen them, Erdely’s notes say. Erdely said in her
deposition that she made a mental note to bring it up with Jackie’s
mother, but ended up never speaking to her.
Erdely went back to
Jackie after other reporters started raising questions about the
accuracy of the story, according to the documents. She talked to Jackie
early on the morning of December 5 and when she asked for help in
finding her attackers, “it spiralled into confusion,” Erdely’s notes
“By the time we ended our conversation, I felt nearly
certain that she was not being truthful,” according to Erdely’s notes.
“Then I called her friend Alex, who has been a valuable resource; and I
found out that over the past day, Alex has also come to the conclusion
that Jackie has probably been lying,” she wrote.
In her deposition, Erdely called it the “most devastating moment” of her career.
Locke, an attorney for Eramo, said in an email on Sunday that Erdely
knew Jackie’s story changed materially over time and published the
“false and defamatory article despite serious red flags and without any
real due diligence”.
Attorneys for Jackie and Erdely didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Sunday.
discovered, in the early morning hours, that the person who I had
absolutely believed and trusted had, for whatever reason, turned out not
to be credible,” Erdely said in her deposition. “And I didn’t know
whether what we had published was truthful or not.”