Rolling Stone Trial: Magazine Editor Testifies for 2nd Day

Posted: Updated: Oct 27, 2016 06:28 PM
Sean Woods leaving court in Charlottesville (FILE) Sean Woods leaving court in Charlottesville (FILE)
Depiction of Nicole Eramo in Rolling Stone Magazine's " A Rape on Campus" Depiction of Nicole Eramo in Rolling Stone Magazine's " A Rape on Campus"
Sara Surface (FILE) Sara Surface (FILE)

Jurors in a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit will be sitting in a federal courtroom for longer than was initially expected.

Judge Glen Conrad informed the jury Thursday morning that the trial will be going into next week. This is now day 10 of what was scheduled to be a 10-day trial.

Sean Woods, the deputy managing editor at Rolling Stone magazine, was back on the witness stand for a second day.

The magazine published "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in its November 2014 issue. The article centered on "Jackie", then a UVA student, who described being gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in September of 2012. An investigation by Charlottesville police in 2015 found no evidence to back up the claims made in the article. Rolling Stone eventually retracted the article and apologized.

Eramo, then the associate dean of students at UVA, claims Erdely’s article unfairly portrayed her as indifferent to Jackie's plight and only interested in protecting the university's reputation. She filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone, publisher Wenner Media, and Erdely. Eramo is seeking around $7.5 million in damages.

Thursday, Woods continued to take plaintiff’s attorney Elizabeth “Libby” Locke through the process that lead up to the publication of Erdely’s article.

Locke showed the court an October 25, 2014 email from Woods to Erdely saying in part, "I worry that we can't confirm the two girls coming to Jackie and alleging gang rape at the same fraternity."

Erdely responded via email to Woods on Oct. 26, 2014, with, "I wish I had better sourcing for a lot of the Jackie stuff."

Woods told the jury, "I thought Jackie was rock solid." He went on to say, "I thought we had a rock solid source."

Locke pointed out emails from November 3, 2015: In them there seems to be some concern that Jackie has gone silent as the magazine readies to publish the article. Woods emailed Erdely, “Any word from Jackie?”, who replies with, “not a word.”

Woods said in court that there were conversations over “recasting the lead” in the article, having it center on “Stacy” instead of Jackie.

Locke asked Woods why he deleted a disclosure that Jackie refused to identify “Jay”, who was called “Drew” in the article. According to Jackie, Jay/Drew is the fraternity member who took her into the room where she was gang raped. According to Woods, that disclosure was to be in the last section of the article. He testified that he wanted to work that information into the story, but it didn't make it into the printed version. Woods said, "I deeply, deeply regret it."

Locke later asked Woods if there was a cover up, which he replied, "I wouldn't characterize it as that."

Woods claims Erdely’s article doesn't paint Eramo as indifferent; instead, he sees the piece as helping Jackie.

Locke brought up the illustration of Eramo in the article, which appears to show her smiling and giving the thumbs up to a possibly distraught woman. The attorney asked Woods if he thought Eramo looked caring in that image, which Woods replied, "I think it shows her doing her job."

Woods told defense attorney J. Scott Sexton that he “firmly believed Jackie's story." He also testified, "We saw her [Jackie] as a victim, and we let our guards down."

Woods sent an email to Erdely on December 5, saying "I've offered to resign over the story."

An independent review by the Columbia Journalism School detailed Rolling Stone journalistic malpractices in “A Rape on Campus.”

"I think all of our reputations were trashed," said Woods in court. He added, "It was a terrible blow."

Woods talked about former-Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana, calling him a mentor. Dana was let go last year, partly because of the article.

"It broke him [Dana]. It broke all of us. We were all shattered," Woods said.

Woods said to Sexton, "I really wish [Nicole Eramo] would have talked with us," explaining that, "She was the public face of the policy."

He says The University of Virginia is to blame for Rolling Stone not speaking with Eramo for the article.

Sexton pointed out to the jury that there are positive comments about Eramo in the article.

Woods is still employed with Rolling Stone, and is the corporate representative for the magazine in this trial.

Sara Surface was called to testify late in the day. Surface has been referred to as a friend of Jackie, and was mentioned in Erdely's article. She was also a leader with One Less, and participated in the launch of #HOOS Got Your Back.

Surface told the court that she believed Erdely had a critical view of Eramo, and thought the article would be about combating "rape culture" at colleges and universities.

"[Erdely] disregarded me because I didn't fit the narrative that she had created," Surface said on the stand.

Surface "saw personally the dedication of the [UVA] administration" in regard to sexual assault awareness, assistance, and outreach for survivors.

Court wrapped up a little after 6 p.m. Jurors are expected to get a better idea how much longer the trial will last when court resumes Friday morning.

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