Phi Psi files complaint against Rolling Stone

November 9, 2015

Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi Files Defamation Lawsuit Against Rolling Stone Magazine

Today the brothers of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi filed a defamation lawsuit in Charlottesville, Virginia Circuit Court against Rolling Stone magazine and contributing editor Sabrina Erdely seeking in excess of $25 million in damages related to the publication of the November 2014 article “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” The 355-page complaint alleges in great detail how Rolling Stone and Erdely were determined in advance to support a preconceived narrative of college campus sexual assault culture by depicting the most graphic and horrific story they could find, regardless of its truth. Rolling Stone and Erdely deliberately ignored known facts and readily pursuable leads that, if acknowledged or pursued, would have shown that the allegations of ritualized brutal gang rape were fabricated. Rolling Stone published the article with reckless disregard for the truth.

The fraternity chapter and its student and alumni members suffered extreme damage to their reputations in the aftermath of the article’s publication and continue to suffer despite the ultimate unraveling of the story. Innocent brothers were besieged in their residence, physically threatened, protested against and vilified by unknown assailants, fellow students and the university community. Impacts of the article were felt well beyond the University of Virginia and Charlottesville. The original story drew almost 3 million unique visitors to the website, and was shared on social media hundreds of thousands times. For a time, “A Rape on Campus” was the biggest news story in America. The chapter and its members became the symbol for rape on college campuses.

Since 1853 Virginia Alpha has initiated over 1400 brothers, including President of the United States Woodrow Wilson. Today’s brothers continue the Phi Psi tradition of serving others while striving to excel both academically and through student leadership roles; its membership consists historically of individuals from a cross section of society, some of whom are attending the University of Virginia on partial or full financial scholarships; the fraternity is not “elitist”. Sadly, Rolling Stone’s false depiction of our chapter and the resulting media frenzy swept away 162 years of goodwill and accomplishment and harmed over 800 living alumni and their families. The article also subjected the student members and their families to danger and immense stress while jeopardizing the future existence of the chapter.

Despite the self-evident defamation and the severe damages suffered by the chapter, the decision to file this lawsuit was not made lightly. In the end, it was the egregious behavior of Rolling Stone that tipped the balance. Rolling Stone engaged in a cynical bargain with its source, in which Rolling Stone intentionally avoided sourcing and corroborating the story in return for continued willingness to support its preconceived narrative. Allegations of systematic gang rape carried out in the service of institutional policy is the stuff of life-ruining criminal prosecution, or when carried out by nations and armies, war crimes.

Rape is a brutal and heinous crime, and sexual assault on college campuses must not be tolerated. Serious public discourse about sexual assault is not served, however, by the intentional publication of a lurid and horrific story that was entirely concocted. As stated by the founder of our great University:

“No inference is here intended that the laws provided by the State against false and defamatory publications should not be enforced; he who has time renders a service to public morals and public tranquility in reforming these abuses by the salutary coercions of the law.” –Thomas Jefferson. Second Inaugural Address, Washington D.C., March 4, 1805.

The brothers at Phi Kappa Psi would like the media to know that they will not be granting interviews regarding this matter until the case is resolved. Please direct all inquiries to Brian Ellis at (804) 512-4797.

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The full text of the 355-page complaint as-file is here.