In an opinion Tuesday, Judge Castel dismissed a case brought by three fraternity members against Rolling Stone magazine and one of its writers, Sabrina Erdely, who authored a discredited account of a woman referred to as “Jackie” claiming to have been gang raped at a fraternity at the University of Virginia.
Judge Castel found that the article was not specific enough to defame the plaintiffs. For example, the article quotes Jackie as saying that the attackers encouraged one another with statements like “Don’t you want to be a brother?” and “We all had to do it, so you do, too” – language that Judge Castel found couldn’t plausibly suggest that every fraternity member was a rapist:
Plaintiffs’ interpretation of the remarks would require the words to literally mean that in order to become a member of the organization, each and every member — said to exceed eighty individuals — committed a rape or gang rape, presumably in some provable way to those in charge of the admission process. This would implicate more than eighty attackers and a similarly large number of victims. But the article purports to recount the brutal gang rape of “Jackie,” which was met with indifference from her peers and university administrators. Even the article’s title, “A Rape on Campus,” places its focus on the experience of “Jackie,” as opposed to an expose of an organization with a membership-wide rape requirement. One would expect that a report that more than eighty men were members of an organization requiring rape as a pre-condition for membership would bear a different title. 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.
[The plaintiff’s] strained interpretation of the remarks does not “nudge” his claims “across the line from conceivable to plausible.”