NEW YORK, N.Y. – A defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine over the magazine’s debunked article about a University of Virginia gang rape was tossed out by a judge Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel in Manhattan said the lawsuit brought by three former fraternity members cited comments that were offered as speculation and hypothesis rather than fact.
He noted that none of the three members of Phi Kappa Psi were identified by name or physically described in the November 2014 article that described in chilling detail a student’s account of being raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in September 2012. The men — George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler — were members of the fraternity at the time but have since graduated.
“Their defamation claims are directed toward a report about events that simply did not happen,” Castel wrote.
An investigation by Charlottesville, Virginia, police found no evidence to back up the claims of the woman identified in the article as “Jackie.” Rolling Stone retracted the article and the magazine’s managing editor and the article’s author both apologized.
Castel said claims that the article made it seem that rape was an initiation ritual had to be dismissed because interpreting comments in the article to mean “all aspiring members were required to commit an act of rape stretches the language beyond its plausible meaning and surrounding context.”
“Viewed in the overall context of the article, the quotes cannot reasonably be construed to state or imply that the fraternity enforced a rape requirement as part of an initiation ritual or a pre-condition for membership,” he said.
The Phi Kappa Psi members brought the lawsuit last year, claiming the article caused them humiliation and emotional distress.
Alan L. Frank, a lawyer for the men, said they will consider their options, including an appeal.
Lawyers for defendants Rolling Stone, Wenner Media LLC and Sabrina Ruben Erdely, author of the article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” did not immediately return messages seeking comment.