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Rolling Stone Trial: Publisher Stands by Article, Except Jackie's Part

Posted: Updated: Oct 28, 2016 10:26 PM
Image from a videotaped deposition of Jann Simon Wenner Image from a videotaped deposition of Jann Simon Wenner
Sean Woods leaving court in Charlottesville (FILE) Sean Woods leaving court in Charlottesville (FILE)
"A Rape on Campus," the now-retracted Rolling Stone article "A Rape on Campus," the now-retracted Rolling Stone article
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

The jury in a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone got to hear from one of the men who founded the magazine.

A videotaped deposition of Jann Simon Wenner, co-founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, was played for the jury Friday morning.

Wenner said, "We are deeply committed to factual accuracy." He later stated, "We did everything reasonable, appropriate, up to the highest standards."

During the deposition, Wenner claimed journalists don't have the legal authority to check facts before publication, adding, "So they just do their damn best."

Rolling Stone 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.

"As soon as I knew about it, we retracted and apologized immediately," said Wenner during the deposition.

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.

"To the extent that we have caused you [Eramo] damage, and obviously we have, but the fact that we're here, I'm very, very sorry. It was never meant to ever happen this way to you. And believe me, I've suffered as much as you have. And I know what it's like. I hope that this whole thing hadn't happened but it is, and it's what we live with. But please, my sympathies," Wenner said on tape.

Wenner would sometimes challenge questions from attorney Tom Clare during the deposition, causing his own lawyers and Rolling Stone editor Sean Woods to chuckle at times.

The publisher said that he didn’t recall specifics of why they lost confidence in Jackie. "We screwed up. Bring it on. We suffered," he said.

Wenner said the main error was not confronting the people Jackie said attacked her.

Clare asked the publisher why Rolling Stone let the article remain on the magazine’s website even after it appeared information in it was false. Wenner said they thought it was important for people to see Erdely’s article with the editor's note. He stated that the editor's notes in the article were intended to be a retraction for everything that had come from Jackie, but not the rest of the story.

"It was a full retraction for all the Jackie stuff in that article," Wenner said, but clarified that he stood by the rest of the article.

Wenner said that even looking back now he would have objected to retracting the entire article.

Jurors were next played a videotaped deposition of Alvin Ling. He discussed Google analytics data for Rolling Stone’s website.

Plaintiff’s attorneys next showed the jury Will Dana’s tape deposition. Dana was the managing editor at Rolling Stone when the article was published.

Dana said most writers hired by the magazine are experienced and know the fact-checking process for sources.

He testified Erdely had authority to make binding agreements - such as confidentiality - with sources on behalf of Rolling Stone.

Dana goes on to say that he liked Erdely's pitch, because rape culture at colleges - and in general - were "being discussed a lot in media and society."

The editor understood the initial idea of the piece was to be on sexual assault at colleges and how administrations keep them quiet. Their plan was to hone in on one case of sexual assault involving a college student, and investigate how the college’s administration would handle it.

Dana said he didn't consult with Erdely or Woods much after reviewing the first draft, and that it "gave [him] confidence" that Jackie was letting the magazine use her first name.

When asked about the photo illustration in the article of Eramo, Dana said he really liked it, and "thought it was a good piece of art" that attributed to complexities of situations in the story.

Dana testified in his deposition it was Wenner’s decision to keep “A Rape on Campus” up pending an independent review by the Columbia Journalism School.

Dana says Erdely’s article was official retracted in April 2015, because that is when it was by taken off the website.

Eramo's legal team rested its case before 3 p.m. Friday.

Judge Glen Conrad excused the jury for the weekend before taking up motions from the defense.

Conrad said the case will move forward, although one of the several claims main in Eramo's complaint may not.

Jurors will be back for more testimony Monday at 9:30 a.m.

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