A federal judge recently decided University administrator Nicole Eramo, who seeks $7.85 million in defamation charges against Rolling Stone Magazine, is a “limited purpose public figure.” This ruling raises the bar for Eramo’s attorneys, who now have to prove that the Rolling Stone article — which detailed a now-discredited gang rape at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and painted a negative picture of Eramo in the process — contains “actual malice” instead of merely a negligently published “defamatory falsehood.”
Rolling Stone’s defendants argue Eramo has become so closely associated with publicly known sexual assault issues in her role as a University administrator that she can no longer be considered a private figure. However, Eramo’s name only became widely known after it was tarnished through Rolling Stone’s careless journalism. The ruling sets a bad precedent for otherwise low-profile administrators who are subject to national controversies due to their positions at prestigious universities, which are often held under a microscope.
Naming Eramo a public figure — even in a limited capacity — severely undermines her case against Rolling Stone by raising her burden of proof. But Eramo was not the face of the University when Rolling Stone made its baseless accusations against her. To treat her as such simply adds insult to injury.