Virginia readers may have heard about the defamation lawsuit last month involving a University of Virginia administrator and Rolling Stone magazine. The case involved a two week trial over whether Rolling stone and one of its authors defamed the administrator in an article which raised national attention on sexual assault on college campuses.
After publication, the article was discredited, particularly for its reliance on a single source to detail a gang rape at a fraternity party near the university. The Columbia Graduate School of Journalism made a negative judgment on the magazine for failing to verify the source's account. No evidence was ever found to back up the story, and the magazine ended up retracting the article. The former associate dean of students, who was heavily criticized in the article, sued Rolling Stone and the author for $7.5 million in damages.
The jury ended up deciding that the author was liable for $2 million, while Rolling Stone and its parent company, Wenner Media, were liable for $1 million. The verdict was based on the jury's conclusion that the story, and public statements after the article was published, were made with actual malice. The term indicates the legal standard for libel against public figures, and requires evidence that the author knew the information was false but published anyway, or that the author published with reckless disregard for the truth.
The case is an interesting one not only because of the content of the writing and the drama in its aftermath, but also because of the recent discussions about integrity in reporting. In our next post, we'll say more about this issue, specifically as it relates to businesses and defamation law.