Rolling Stone Hit With Defamation Lawsuit

     (CN) – Three Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers who were central figures in a now-discredited Rolling Stone expose on campus rape say in a lawsuit that they continue to suffer as a result of the reporter’s excesses.
     In a complaint filed on July 29, former University of Virginia students George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler say the magazine, its publisher, and the author of the piece, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, sought notoriety — and sales — at the expense of the men’s reputations.
     They claim the piece, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” which associated them with an alleged attack on another student, was reckless, subjected them to ongoing humiliation and harassment without cause, and has led them to avoid association with their fraternity.
     The article purported to tell the story of the vicious gang rape of a University of Virginia student, identified only as Jackie, during a frat party,
     The three men say that in the immediate aftermath of the article’s December 2014 publication, they were pilloried by news organizations and blogs that accused them of being rapists.
     Hadford claims he was even confronted by the dean of his postgraduate school and forced to defend himself against the allegations.
     All three plaintiffs say that to this day a Google search of their names returns references to the article, including the website of a forum containing “hundreds of horrific comments and accusations” about them.
     Rolling Stone later retracted the article and apologized for it, after a number of news organizations began to poke holes in the magazine’s claims and Erdely’s work.
     The Columbia Journalism Review included the piece in its review of the “The Worst Journalism of 2014,” and the Poynter Institute called it the “Error of the Year” in journalism. On Thursday, Rolling Stone announced that Will Dana, the managing editor who oversaw publication of the piece, is leaving the magazine.
     As far as the plaintiffs are concerned, the damage to their lives and reputations has already been done.
     “By claiming that the men who participated in the alleged gang-rape were not only participants in a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity initiation ritual, but also specifically 2013 and 2014 graduates, Erdely and Rolling Stone created a simple and direct way to match the alleged attackers with plaintiffs,” the complaint says. “This information was shown and listed on plaintiffs’ Facebooks, Phi Kappa Psi’s website, and is common knowledge amongst current and former UVA students.”
     Elias claims that because his room was on the top floor of the frat house where Jackie claimed she was attacked, it was “the most likely scene of the alleged crime.”
     As the UVA rape story began making national headlines, Elias says “he was forced to endure the emotional distress of seeing the broken window of his second floor bedroom, right at the top of the first flight of stairs, and knowing that the world thought he was a rapist.”
     The men contend the events described in the Rolling Stone article never happened and the accusations the piece contained were “categorically false and have been disproved by publicly available information.”
     ” In fact, Phi Kappa Psi did not have a party, date function, or gathering that night, Phi Kappa Psi did not participate in rush or have a pledge class in the fall semester, and no brother existed by the name of ‘Drew’ or ‘Haven Monahan,'” who was alleged to have brought Jackie to the fraternity house.
     Despite the falsity of the article, “[e]ach of the Plaintiffs’ names and hometowns were listed on publicly available online blogs by anonymous users, identifying Plaintiffs as the participants in the alleged gang
     rape. Those blogs still exist and Plaintiffs’ names will forever be associated with the alleged gang rape,” the complaint says.
     “Not surprisingly, these claims had a devastating effect on each of the Plaintiffs’ reputations,” the complaint continues. “As young men who have dedicated their lives to obtaining the merits to attend
     UVA, maintaining good grades and obtaining undergraduate degrees, while also becoming
     involved in UVA activities, pledging a fraternity and finding lifelong brothers and friends,
     Plaintiffs have been embarrassed to admit that they are members of Phi Kappa Psi as a direct
     result of the article and its accusations.
     “Moreover, Plaintiffs have received a wave of unwanted attention, such as numerous postings on message boards and forums, constant texts, emails, and questioning from peers and coworkers, and soliciting from reporters. Plaintiffs have each suffered emotional turmoil, were entirely unable to focus at work and in school following the release of the article, and are still being questioned often about the article’s accusations,” the men say.
     The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages on claims of defamation and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
     They are represented by Alan Frank of Jenkintown, Pa.

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