Sabrina Rubin Erdely is an American former journalist and magazine reporter, who in 2014 authored an article in Rolling Stone describing the alleged rape of a University of Virginia student by several fraternity members. The article would later be discredited. The story, titled "A Rape on Campus", was later found to be unsupported by evidence. The magazine retracted the article following a Columbia University School of Journalism review which concluded that Erdely and Rolling Stone failed to engage in "basic, even routine journalistic practice". As a result, Erdely was named in three lawsuits with demands of more than $32 million combined for damages resulting from the publication of the story.
1971/1972 (age 48–49)
|Alma mater||University of Pennsylvania|
|Known for||Author of defamatory Rolling Stone story, "A Rape on Campus"|
|Children||1 daughter, 1 son|
|Awards||GLAAD Media Award (2012)|
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Erdely has written about rape and bullying. Prior to the Rolling Stone article, her work appeared in GQ, Self, The New Yorker, Mother Jones, Glamour, Men's Health and Philadelphia.
In November 2016, a federal court jury found Erdely was liable for defamation with actual malice in a lawsuit brought by University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo, and Erdely was found personally responsible for $2 million in damages.
Education and early life
Erdely was born in New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994. According to Erdely, she was initially a pre-med student but became an English major while working on the staff of 34th Street, the magazine insert for the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper. During her tenure at 34th Street, her colleague Stephen Glass "threw a righteous fit" after she and a colleague "concocted a funny and obviously made-up travel story" for the magazine. Later, in an article she wrote for the University of Pennsylvania alumni magazine, she called Glass a "sociopathic creep" because, she said, he fabricated stories published as factual journalism in The New Republic.
Erdely's 1996 story for Philadelphia, concerning a woman who alleged she had been raped by her gynecologist, was nominated for a National Magazine Award. A 2012 story for Rolling Stone, alleging bullying of gay students in Minnesota, was similarly nominated and received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Magazine Article. In 2003 Erdely wrote a feature article in GQ about famous con man Steve Comisar. Erdely's 2013 Rolling Stone article, "The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer," chronicled the alleged drugging and rape of a US Navy female petty officer by three US Army soldiers.
Rolling Stone article: "The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files"
In 2011, Erdely reported a story for Rolling Stone about child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia. (The church had been under investigation in numerous cities since The Boston Globe's exposé in 2002 of church protection of predatory priests.) Erdely's article described a fifth grade altar boy referred to by the pseudonym "Billy Doe" whom "brutal attacks turned ... into a sullen, drug-addicted loner," alleging a "high-level conspiracy." Billy Doe was an adult when he made his accusations, resulting in criminal charges leading to the jailing of three church employees. Doe also filed a major civil suit against the church.
Ralph Cipriano wrote in Newsweek that "Erdely didn't know or bother to find out ... that Billy had already told his story to the archdiocese, police, and a grand jury, and would subsequently retell it to two different juries in two criminal cases. And every time he told his story, the details kept changing." In the first iteration of the rape Billy Doe claimed to have endured, he was knocked unconscious, stripped, tied to a church altar with sashes, and anally raped on the altar for five hours. Subsequent iterations of the rape recounted by Doe were less dramatic; a final version omitted the five-hour altar anal rape. Instead, Billy Doe explained, he had been coerced into engaging in mutual masturbation. Cipriano criticized Erdely for failing to include information on Billy Doe's background that could have impugned his credibility; he had, for instance, been arrested six times, once while trafficking 56 bags of heroin. Doe's lawyer Slade McLaughlin, and David Clohessy, head of SNAP, have noted in response that substance abuse is a common reaction to childhood sexual abuse.
When Erdely was covering the Billy Doe story, her husband was a criminal prosecutor for the District Attorney of Philadelphia, which was overseeing the case. Rolling Stone editors said that it was not a conflict of interest because he was not personally involved in the prosecution. William Anthony Donohue at the Catholic League denounced "malicious distortions of the kind found in Erdely's diatribe." The conviction of one church employee has since been overturned, and a new trial ordered for the one remaining (the third church employee died in prison while appealing his conviction).
Rolling Stone article: "The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer"
"The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer" was published in Rolling Stone on February 14, 2013. The article denounced the military's handling of sexual assault cases, primarily through the story of Rebecca Blumer, a Navy petty officer (E-5) who claimed to have been slipped a date-rape drug and then sexually assaulted by three Army soldiers.
After "A Rape on Campus" was discredited in late 2014, some began to question whether Erdely's other articles may have been similarly fabricated. Leon H. Wolf, writing in April 2015 for RedState, noted the similarities between "A Rape on Campus" and the "Rape of Petty Officer Blumer."
Rolling Stone article: "A Rape on Campus"
Erdely's article for Rolling Stone, titled "A Rape on Campus", was published in the December 2014 issue of that magazine. It alleged that seven members of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Virginia gang-raped a student at that fraternity house on September 28, 2012.
Separate inquiries by both Phi Kappa Psi and The Washington Post revealed major errors and discrepancies in the report. Erdely's story was subject to intense media criticism and questions as to its truthfulness. The Washington Post and Boston Herald both issued calls for magazine staff involved in the report to be fired. Natasha Vargas-Cooper, a columnist at The Intercept, said that Erdely's story showed "a horrendous, hidden bias," while an editorial in The Wall Street Journal charged that "Ms. Erdely did not construct a story based on facts, but went looking for facts to fit her theory." As criticism of the story mounted, Erdely disappeared from public view, with various media outlets describing her as "MIA" and "off the grid." Rolling Stone subsequently issued three apologies for the story. On December 10, 2014, The Washington Post published an updated account of its inquiry into the Rolling Stone article. Summarizing that report, Slate noted that it "strongly implies, without outright saying so, that the gang rape at the center of Sabrina Rubin Erdely's article might be fabricated."
Scott Goodman, a lawyer, speculated that legal action against the magazine by persons accused of the rape may result. Rolling Stone publisher Jann S. Wenner asked the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to audit the editorial processes leading up to the publication of the controversial story.
On January 12, 2015, the University of Virginia reinstated the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity after the police investigation concluded that no incident had occurred at the fraternity. According to Charlottesville police captain Gary Pleasants, Charlottesville police "found no basis to believe that an incident occurred at that fraternity, so there's no reason to keep them suspended." The police investigation into the allegations made by Erdely was concluded (though not closed) on March 23, 2015; no evidence was found to support Erdely's claims, with Charlottesville police stating that they had "no basis to conclude that anything happened in [the] fraternity house, or any fraternity house, for that matter" and that there "is no substantive basis to support the account alleged in the Rolling Stone article."
On April 5, 2015, Rolling Stone retracted the article. Erdely publicly apologized for the article on April 5, 2015, though her apology did not include any mention of the fraternity, or the members of the fraternity who were accused. The Columbia Journalism Review called the apology "a grudging act of contrition."
On May 12, 2015, the associate dean of students at the University of Virginia, Nicole Eramo, who oversaw sexual violence cases at the time of the article's publication, filed a lawsuit against both Rolling Stone and Erdely, seeking $7.5 million in damages based upon her claim that the article contained "highly defamatory and false statements", which she alleged, led to the destruction of Eramo's credibility, permanently damaging her reputation, and causing her emotional distress.
Beginning on October 17, 2016, a 10-member federal court jury heard testimony from 12 witnesses and saw 11 hours of video statements and more than 180 exhibits of evidence over 16 days during the trial for defamation brought by Eramo. On November 4, 2016, the jury concluded that Erdely was responsible for defamation with actual malice. The jury's finding means that it concluded Erdely knew statements about Eramo in the article were false—or had reason to doubt them and failed to investigate further—but published them anyway.
On July 29, 2015, a separate lawsuit was filed by three members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media, and Erdely for defamation and infliction of emotional distress caused by Erdely's story. This lawsuit was subsequently dismissed by a federal judge on June 29, 2016, because the three plaintiffs were neither explicitly nor implicitly identified in the original article. On September 19, 2017 that decision was reversed by a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit which found that "Plaintiffs Elias and Fowler have plausibly alleged that the purportedly defamatory statements in the Article only were 'of and concerning' them individually. We also hold that Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the Article was 'of and concerning' them under a theory of small group defamation."
Erdely's Rolling Stone story "A Rape on Campus" was named by Columbia Journalism Review as "the Worst Journalism of 2014" and as "Error of the Year" by the Poynter Institute.
In 2013 a film, titled The Girl Who Conned the Ivy League and based on Erdely's story of the same name for Rolling Stone, published in early 2010, was in development with Rob Epstein as director. The idea for the film had been pitched in March 2010 by screenwriter Lorene Scafaria, with Amanda Seyfried proposed for the title role of Esther Reed. However, in January 2014, an LA Weekly cover story described cocaine-dealing allegations and prison time done by Remington Chase and Stepan Martirosyan, who were involved in financing the film.
In 2013, it was announced that Craig Brewer would adapt Erdely's story "Gangster Princess of Beverly Hills" into a motion picture.
Personal life and other career activity
As of April 2015, Erdely lives in Philadelphia with her husband (an attorney) and two children, a daughter and a son. She is Jewish and a member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel.
She currently writes for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and co-hosts the Jewish Philly podcast. She previously taught writing courses at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.
In popular culture
Erdely's defamatory "A Rape on Campus" article and its aftermath was the inspiration for a season 16 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Episode 18 of the show, titled "Devastating Story", was broadcast in April 2015 and featured the case of a college student, who falsely claimed to have been gang raped in a fraternity house.
- Stephen Glass, American journalist of The New Republic, who published fabricated articles.
- Janet Cooke, author of fabricated Pulitzer Prize winning article.
- Fake news
- Farhi, Paul (November 28, 2014). "Sabrina Rubin Erdely, woman behind Rolling Stone's explosive U-Va. alleged rape story". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
...Erdely, 42, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and a freelancer who writes frequently about crime and social issues.
- Somaiya, Ravi (5 April 2015). "Rolling Stone Article on Rape at University of Virginia Failed All Basics, Report Says". NY Times. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
- Shapiro, T. Rees (9 November 2015). "U-Va. fraternity files $25 million lawsuit against Rolling Stone". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- Middleton, Josh (2 April 2013). "Local Writer Nominated for ASME Award for Gay-Centric Story in Rolling Stone". Philadelphia Magazine. Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Shapiro, T. Rees (2016-11-04). "Jury finds reporter, Rolling Stone responsible for defaming U-Va. dean with gang rape story". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
- "Jury awards $3 million in damages to U-Va. dean for Rolling Stone defamation". Washington Post. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
- "Longform Podcast #84: Sabrina Rubin Erdely · Longform Player". Longform.
- "Bio". sabrinaerdely.com. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- "The Pennsylvania Gazette: Through a Glass Darkly (2/4)". upenn.edu.
- Erdely, Sabrina (January 2004). "Reflections on a Shattered Glass". Pennsylvania Gazette. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- "Philadelphia | MPA". www.magazine.org. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
- "GLAAD Media Award Nominations: Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Modern Family, Glee Score Nods". E Online. 16 January 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- The Creep With the Golden Tongue by Sabrina R Erdely, GQ, August 2003, 126-32, 155-156.
- Erdely, Sabrina (14 February 2013). "The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- "ROLLING STONE GETS UGLY: VILE HIT ON PHILLY ARCHDIOCESE". catholicleague.org. Catholic League. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- Erdely, Sabrina (6 September 2011). "The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- "Another Rolling Stone Rape Article Has Major Holes". Newsweek. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
- Cipriano, Ralph. "The Story of Billy". Independent Voice. Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- "Catholic Sex Abuse Case". Philadelphia magazine. Philadelphia, PA. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- Mathis, Joel (26 January 2016). "Billy Doe's Lawyer Pushes Back on Newsweek Cover Story". Philadelphia. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
- Farhi, Paul (12 December 2014). "Rolling Stone magazine has often thrived on controversy. Is this time different?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- "Philadelphia priest, teacher convicted of abuse seek new trial". National Catholic Reporter. 28 August 2014. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- "The impact of the court decision to reverse Lynn's conviction". Philadelphia City Paper. 2 January 2014. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- Erdelyq, Sabrina (February 14, 2013). "The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
- Wolf, Leon H. (7 April 2015). "Sabrina Rubin Erdely's OTHER Possibly Fake Rape Story". RedState. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
- Rubin, Sabrina (2014-11-19). "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA". Archived from the original on November 20, 2014. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
- Schow, Ashe (3 December 2014). "If False, Rolling Stone Story Could Set Rape Victims Back Decades". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- "Apparently, This Rolling Stone Gathers No Facts". Boston Herald. 7 December 2014. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
- Concha, Joe (9 December 2014). "Lena Dunham's Republican-Raped-Me Story Crumbles as Legal Action Looms". Mediaite. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Rosin, Hannah (10 December 2014). "The Washington Post Inches Closer to Calling the UVA Gang Rape Story a Fabrication". Slate. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
- "Civil, Criminal Lawsuits: Possible Outcomes of Rolling Stone Expose". WCAV-TV. 5 December 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Wemple, Erik (2014-12-19). "Rolling Stone Farms Out Review of U-Va. Rape Story to Columbia Journalism School". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
- "Police clear U-Va. fraternity, say rape did not happen there". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
- Robinson, Owen; Stolberg, Sheryl. "Police Find No Evidence of Rape at UVA Fraternity". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
- "Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia School of Journalism Report - Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone.
- "Statement from Writer of Rolling Stone Article Sabrina Erdely-New York Times". The New York Times.
- Rachel Brody. "Rolling Stone Retracts UVA Fraternity Rape Story, Pundits React - US News". US News & World Report.
- "Rolling Stone fails to take full responsibility for its actions". Columbia Journalism Review.
- Stelter, Brian (6 April 2015). "Major 'failures' found in Rolling Stone's 'A Rape on Campus'". CNNMoney. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
- Valerie Bauerlein; Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg (April 6, 2015). "Probe of Now-Discredited Rolling Stone Article Didn't Find Fireable Error". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
- Shapiro, T. Rees (May 12, 2015). "U-Va. dean sues Rolling Stone for 'false' portrayal in retracted rape story". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
“Rolling Stone and Erdely's highly defamatory and false statements about Dean Eramo were not the result of an innocent mistake,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court. “They were the result of a wanton journalist who was more concerned with writing an article that fulfilled her preconceived narrative about the victimization of women on American college campuses, and a malicious publisher who was more concerned about selling magazines to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine, than they were about discovering the truth or actual facts.”
- Horowitz, Julia. "Rolling Stone found liable for defamation for rape story". Retrieved 21 September 2018.
- BERG, LAUREN. "Jury says Rolling Stone article defamed UVa administrator". Retrieved 21 September 2018.
- "Virginia college graduates sue Rolling Stone over rape story". Reuters. 2015-07-29. Retrieved 2015-07-30.
- "Federal judge dismisses U-Va. fraternity members' defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
- "Elias et al. v. Rolling Stone LLC et al" (PDF). Retrieved 19 September 2017.
- Uberti, David (22 December 2014). "The worst journalism of 2014". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- "The year in media errors and corrections 2014". Poynter.org. Archived from the original on 2015-03-15. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
- "'Lovelace' Directors on 'The Girl Who Conned The Ivy League' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- Rosen, Christopher (February 15, 2014). "Seyfried and McG Join 'The Girl Who Conned The Ivy League'". screenrant.com.
- Siegel, Tatiana (January 8, 2014). "'Lone Survivor' Financiers Face Fallout as Drug Trafficking Report Surfaces". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
- Fleming, Michael (27 February 2013). "Craig Brewer Signs On For Paramount's 'Gangster Princess Of Beverly Hills'". Deadline. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
- "The Gazette Nov/Dec: Alumni Notes". www.upenn.edu.
- "Rolling Stone retraction a rare blemish for journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely". Associated Press. April 7, 2015.
- "Jersey Day Camp Draws Record Numbers". August 7, 2013.
- Philadelphia, Jewish Federation of Greater. "Blog - Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia | Sabrina Rubin Erdely". blog.jewishphilly.org.
- Silverman, Erica (July 8, 2019). "With Jewish podcasts, listeners are connecting to Jewish American life through new media".
- "Get to know Sabrina Rubin Erdely: The reporter who wrote the Rolling Stone UVA hit piece". December 6, 2014.
- "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Devastating Story". TV.com.