The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter at the University of Virginia filed a $25 million lawsuit Monday against Rolling Stone magazine, which published an article in 2014 that alleged a freshman was gang raped at the house during a party.
The lawsuit focuses on a Rolling Stone article titled “A Rape on Campus,” which detailed a harrowing attack on a freshman named Jackie at the Phi Psi house on Sept. 28, 2012. The article, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, described how Jackie was raped by seven men while two others watched in a second floor bedroom while a fraternity party raged downstairs. The article alleged that the attack was part of a hazing ritual at the long-time U-Va. fraternity.
The Washington Post found significant discrepancies in the Rolling Stone account, including that the fraternity did not host a party that night in 2012 and that a student identified by Jackie as her main attacker was never a member of the fraternity and did not attend U-Va.
That is putting it lightly. The Washington Post found that Jackie lied. There is no reason to skirt that fact. The story she presented was demonstrably false, down to the existence of the person she claimed she was dating. While none of that matters to Jackie’s supporters, it does matter to the fraternity members who faced harassment as a result of the story:
In the complaint, filed in state court in Charlottesville, the 54 undergraduate members of the fraternity describe living through the backlash of the article’s publication in November 2014.
The fraternity brothers say they faced vicious threats online, taunts in classrooms and suffered in recruiting new prospects to join the house. While in past years the fraternity typically hosted about 800 students during recruiting events, Phi Psi saw just 300 participants during rush as a result of the article, according to the lawsuit. Of those who did take part in the events, a number of the students had “no intention of pledging, but who rather were attending rush out of a curiosity to walk into the ‘rape house,’ ” one Phi Psi member wrote in the lawsuit.
Many alumni removed their affiliation with the fraternity from their résumés out of concern that Phi Psi membership could hurt their job prospects.
According to the fraternity’s complaint filed in state court: “This defamation action is brought to seek redress for the wanton destruction caused to Phi Kappa Psi by Rolling Stone’s intentional, reckless, and unethical behavior.”
All this happened because of a lie. More accurately, all of this happened because Rolling Stone’s editors and writers were so keen on finding the juiciest, most vicious rape story that they never bothered to vet what they heard. This was true even when their key source stopped communicating with them when they asked her for the name of the man she accused.
There is a good chance the fraternity will win the case. It is easy to show the type of harassment and threats they faced. All they need to do is show articles written for feminist websites.
What comes of this is a different matter. While Rolling Stone faced some backlash for the sloppy reporting, little happened as a result. Most of the people involved in running the story still work for the magazine. The magazine’s overall credibility is still largely intact. Winning the suit would provide a real consequence to a magazine staff that has otherwise avoided any real repercussions.
I hope the fraternity win, just as I hope this sends the message to those operating with political bias that this sort of non-journalism will not be tolerated.