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3 University Of Virginia Graduates Sue 'Rolling Stone' Over Retracted Story


Rolling Stone is the target of another lawsuit. This time, it involves three former members of a University of Virginia fraternity where the magazine said a gang rape occurred. Rolling Stone retracted that story, but the lawsuit says it had a devastating effect on the plaintiffs' reputations. From member station WVTF, Sandy Hausman reports.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: The Rolling Stone story, "A Rape On Campus," identified Phi Kappa Psi as the fraternity where a woman was allegedly assaulted by seven men as part of an initiation ritual. Pseudonyms were used, and there few details about the assailants. But George Elias, a member who graduated in 2013, says family, friends and co-workers assumed he was involved. He and two fraternity brothers are now suing the magazine, its publisher and the reporter who wrote the story for at least $225,000 because of emotional distress and defamation.

JEFF HERMES: The plaintiffs in this case would need to show not only that they felt embarrassed or felt bad about their association with the fraternity, but that reasonable readers of the article would've understood the statements to refer to them personally.

HAUSMAN: Jeff Hermes is with the Media Law Resource Center in New York.

HERMES: They also need to be able to prove that the media outlet failed to take the care that a reasonable person would have in investigating and reporting on the story.

HAUSMAN: And how difficult that will be depends in part on whether a federal court will hear this case under Virginia law, where reporting on the story was done, or under a tougher law in New York, where Rolling Stone is based. Again, Jeff Hermes.

HERMES: Virginia requires proof of negligence. New York requires gross irresponsibility.

HAUSMAN: Rolling Stone declined to comment. The magazine has removed the debunked story from its website, but plaintiffs say their names still appear elsewhere on the Internet and will forever be associated with a crime that never happened. The magazine also faces lawsuits filed by the fraternity and a University of Virginia dean. This week, Rolling Stone's editor, Will Dana, announced he would step down. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.