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Rolling Stone publisher says magazine shouldn’t have retracted article

“I do not stand by it,” Jann Wenner says

<p>Eramo is suing&nbsp;Rolling Stone, Wenner Media, Inc. and Sabrina Rubin Erdely for $7.5 million.&nbsp;</p>

Eramo is suing Rolling Stone, Wenner Media, Inc. and Sabrina Rubin Erdely for $7.5 million. 

In a video deposition played before the court, Rolling Stone publisher and co-founder Jann Wenner said he did not stand by the retraction of “A Rape on Campus.”

“We did everything reasonable and appropriate, up to the highest standards of journalistic check on this thing,” Wenner said in the video deposition taped May 11. “The one thing we didn’t do that we could have done is confront Jackie’s so-called [rapists].”

Wenner’s deposition was shown to the jury on the 11th day of trial for the $7.5 million lawsuit former Associate Dean Nicole Eramo filed against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media, Inc. and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, author of the now-retracted 2014 article.

Eramo claims she was defamed in the article because she says it intentionally and falsely painted her as uncaring and indifferent toward survivors of sexual assault.

As the final authority on decision-making for Rolling Stone, Wenner said he approved the assignment of an article on sexual assault on college campuses, calling it an “ongoing and troubling issue on campuses around the country.”

Wenner said he made no changes to the final draft, and was not made aware of any potential problems until former Managing Editor Will Dana approached him with the knowledge that Jackie was not a reliable source.

Dana was managing editor at the time the article was published in Nov. 2014, but left the magazine after the article was debunked and retracted.

After learning about discrepancies in Jackie’s account of events, Wenner said he did not want to issue a retraction until he was sure they were “acting on a supported basis.”

Rolling Stone published an editor's note to the online article on Dec. 5, 2014, noting discrepancies in Jackie’s claims of an alleged gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house and saying the magazine made a mistake in not digging deeper into Jackie’s allegations.

Wenner said he was “pretty certain” he approved the addition of the note on Dec. 5, which he said only applied to information Erdely learned from Jackie.

“We were not retracting the fundamentals to that story,” Wenner said.

This stands in contrast to the testimony of Deputy Managing Editor Sean Woods, who said he believed the Dec. 5 editor’s note was an effective retraction of the article.

Following the publication of the Columbia Journalism Review’s report on the article, Dana officially retracted the article in April 2015 — a move Wenner said he disagreed with.

“Will Dana’s retraction is inaccurate,” Wenner said. “I do not stand by it.”

The jury was also shown Dana’s video deposition from March 15, 2016, in which he said Erdely was one of their best-paid and most experienced contracted writers.

In March 2014, Erdely signed a $300,000 contract for seven feature articles.

Dana said writers were expected to pitch their stories prior to writing, but that most communication over the story’s progress happened between Erdely and Woods.

“I delegated a lot of authority to my staff, and I take responsibility for that decision,” he said in the video.

In regard to the article’s response from those familiar with the University, Dana said people told him they were used to an environment in which sexual violence often went undiscussed and unreported, but that he heard no criticism specific to Eramo.

“They were talking about the systemic problem,” he said.

The defense interjected as the video played, saying it appeared to have been edited to leave out important information.

The court took a 70 minute recess for lunch, during which time the court videographers re-evaluated the video.

After Dana’s deposition finished and the jury was dismissed, Rolling Stone attorney Elizabeth McNamara put forward a motion to dismiss Eramo’s defamation claims.

For the remaining hours of the day, the attorneys debated the case for defamation and which of the statements Eramo is suing over should go forward to the jury.

McNamara argued several statements in question from “A Rape on Campus” should not progress to the jury, but U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad only threw out one statement, which said the “school may have wondered about its responsibilities.”

Conrad said the keywords regarding Eramo in the trial are “indifferent” and “discouraged,” and ruled that most of the statements made in the article fall into these categories. He also said a reasonable jury could come to two different potential conclusions about whether they were defamatory.

McNamara also proposed the argument for actual malice and defamation by implication be removed from the trial.

“Defendant would had to have serious doubts about the truth,” McNamara said regarding the existence of actual malice. “A reasonable jury could not find evidence that Sabrina published anything with serious doubts.”

Eramo’s attorney Andy Phillips argued Erdely would never have replaced Jackie’s story even if she did have doubts. Phillips reminded the court of a text Erdely sent to Pinkleton stating there was “no plugging the plug” on the article.

“A reasonable jury would find that [Jackie’s] was the most shocking story,” Phillips said.

Conrad denied McNamara’s motion to remove the argument for actual malice.

Conrad will consider the motion for removing defamation by implication over the weekend and provide a decision when court resumes Monday morning.


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