Rolling Stone responded to University of Virginia Associate Dean Nicole Eramo's defamation lawsuit against the magazine, asserting that editors had "no doubts" about the validity of the now-retracted UVA rape story at the time of publication.
The story portrayed Eramo and the UVA administration as unhelpful and indifferent to the plight of Jackie, who claimed to be the victim of a horrific gang rape. The magazine even altered Eramo's likeness to make it more sinister and used it as an image in the story. But Jackie fabricated her tale—something that would have been obvious to Rolling Stone's editors had they tried even halfheartedly to vet her story. The author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not press Jackie to name her attackers (even for internal fact-checking purposes), and the editors let that slide.
As such, Rolling Stone's defense seems fairly suspect to me. From The Washington Post:
Rolling Stone's lawyers alleged that Eramo's assertions in the lawsuit "are not capable of being proven true or false," and therefore not subject for legal action.
The magazine's lawyers also state that the editors and Erdely did not publish the story "with actual malice" against Eramo, meaning that they did not know at the time that the information was false.
In addition, the Rolling Stone lawyers say that the original article was not published "with recklessness, negligence or any other applicable degree of fault," and that the story was vetted by fact-checkers before it appeared online and in print.
The lawyers wrote in their response that "at the time of publication, they had no doubts as to the truth of the article."
But by Rolling Stone's own admission, the fact-checkers did not do an adequate job. And it wasn't because their normal fact-checking process was unequal to the task of uncovering Jackie's lies, but rather, because they didn't abide by their usual standards of verification. This screams "applicable degree of fault" to me.
And while it seems true that no one at Rolling Stone doubted the story at time of publication, Erdely began having doubts soon after. The Columbia University School of Journalism's report on the debacle suggests that these doubts emerged from Erdely's own conscience—she knew all along she should have demanded that Jackie give her a name.
Whether these mistakes entitle Eramo to $7.5 million damages remains to be seen. But I'm certainly not persuaded by Rolling Stone's excuses thus far.
For the most thorough explanation of the case against Rolling Stone, read WaPost's Eugene Volokh.
Read my award-winning analysis of the UVA story here.