Jackie, the center of the debunked 2014 article “A Rape on Campus,” shared her version of events via taped deposition Monday in former Associate Dean Nicole Eramo’s $7.85 million lawsuit against Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Wenner Media, Inc.
At the time of the article, Jackie was an active student — a member of the advocacy group One Less, a co-founder of Students Helping Honduras and a volunteer with Madison House, according to her deposition. She even shared her story of an alleged assault at the annual Take Back the Night event. Jackie left the University following the article’s publication, and has maintained a low profile ever since.
Before the jury heard from Jackie, Erdely, the author of the article, took the stand for the third day. Erdely finished testifying Saturday, but returned for cross-examination from Libby Locke, Eramo’s attorney.
Locke began her cross-examination by questioning Erdely about a number of issues, including her visit to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house without identifying herself as a reporter and the scars Erdely said she saw on Jackie’s wrists. In an effort to demonstrate Erdely’s bias against the University administration, Locke drew attention to Erdely’s interview with University President Teresa Sullivan.
“When President Sullivan was at last made available for an interview, her most frequently invoked answer to my specific questions about sexual assault handling at U.Va. — while two other U.Va. staffers sat in on the recorded call — was ‘I don’t know,’” Erdely wrote in the original “A Rape on Campus” article.
However, Locke countered the claim by saying the number of times Sullivan said she did not know the answer was relatively few compared to the number of questions she was asked.
“You asked Sullivan over 40 questions,” Locke said. “She didn’t know the answer five times.”
In reference to Erdely’s earlier testimony, Locke asked Erdely if she had any ill will or malice toward Eramo, to which Erdely responded she did not. Locke then cited an audio in which Erdely explicitly expressed how mad she was with Eramo.
“I was upset … I was working under the misguided impression that Dean Eramo had authority in punishments [of sexual assault],” Erdely said. “That doesn’t mean I have any personal malice toward Dean Eramo.”
Erdely also failed to verify a particularly damning quote attributed to Eramo in the original article — that Eramo referred to the University as “the rape school.” Erdely said she believed the quote to be fair and accurate when the article was published but could not know whether it is now.
Jackie also addressed the infamous “rape school” quote in her deposition, of which the audio recording was played before the court.
“I don’t remember verbatim this conversation,” Jackie said. “It was not something only about U.Va.”
Locke also introduced an open letter to Eramo published in The Cavalier Daily not long after the release of the Rolling Stone article. One section of the letter was written by an interviewee of the Rolling Stone article, referred to as “Stacy.”
In the letter Stacy disagreed with how the article portrayed Eramo, stating her respect and appreciation for Eramo.
When asked about the letter Erdely responded she “was very impressed with Stacy’s letter” and said “it really captured what the article is about.”
Following Erdely’s cross-examination, the court played Jackie’s deposition. Jackie has refrained from revealing her full identity publicly. She has since married; she was dating her now-husband at the time the article was written, according to her deposition.
Throughout much of the testimony, Jackie said she was unable to remember details of her correspondence with many people due to post-traumatic stress disorder. These people included Erdely, Eramo and Ryan Duffin, her friend at the time of the alleged assault. Duffin was among the friends Erdely failed to contact for the article.
“I have told multiple people different levels of specificity about one experience,” Jackie said in her deposition. “There have always been some things that I remember and some things I really don’t know if I remember.”
Jackie emphasized her faith in Eramo throughout her testimony, explaining that she felt Eramo cared about her well-being and wanted her to understand of all her options.
“She did what an advocate is supposed to do,” Jackie said. “She did make it very clear that I had the right to choose what I wanted to do.”
After Jackie’s two-hour deposition, Elisabeth Garber-Paul, a fact-checker for the Rolling Stone article, took the stand to answer questions from the plaintiff’s counsel. Many of the questions surrounded the notes she had written on drafts of the article.
One of Garber-Paul’s notes said, “Is this too mean?” next to a doctored photograph of Eramo, depicting her with a crying woman in front of her and student activists outside the window behind her. The original photo, before doctoring, showed Eramo speaking in a classroom.
“We were just trying to have multiple things in this illustration,” Garber-Paul said to explain why the illustration ended up in the final publication.
Earlier in the trial, Erdely said at the time she was more focused on the text she was writing rather than the art.
“I didn’t really concern myself with the art,” Erdely said. “I take no ownership of [the illustration].”
A great deal of the questions also addressed whom Garber-Paul reached out to in her efforts to fact check quotes and allegations. She said she did not reach out to any of Jackie’s friends, alleged attackers or other survivors Jackie mentioned to Erdely, claiming she did not have their contact information or Jackie had told Rolling Stone they did not want to speak with the magazine.
Another point of issue was whether to reach out to “Drew,” who was also identified as “Jay” by Jackie. Garber-Paul said Rolling Stone never reached out to Jackie’s alleged attacker to appease Jackie, despite a number of identifiers for him in the article such as his year, fraternity and job as a pool lifeguard.
“We thought that using a pseudonym would be acceptable,” Garber-Paul said.
The trial will continue Tuesday, beginning with the continuation of Garber-Paul’s testimony.