Four months ago, an independent review by the Columbia Journalism School concluded that Rolling Stone’s November 2014 article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia was “a journalistic failure that was avoidable.” The magazine retracted the story and apologized, but publisher Jann Wenner said no one involved in the story’s publication would be fired. Managing editor Will Dana told the New York Times that he felt the review was punishment enough, and no one deserved to lose their job because the article “was not the result of patterns in the work of these people.”
Now it appears Wenner may have rethought that stance; on Wednesday night, Rolling Stone revealed that Dana, who has served as managing editor since 2005, will depart on August 7. According to the New York Times, he is “not leaving for another job, and his successor has not been named.” When asked if Dana’s exit has something to do with the campus rape article, Wenner said “many factors go into a decision like this,” but he also called Dana “one of the finest editors I have ever worked with.”
Dana took heat for his initial statement on the controversy in December 2014, which concluded, “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” The statement was revised to say, “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”
Dana said in a statement on Wednesday that after 19 years at the magazine, “I have decided that it is time to move on.” He added, “It has been a great ride and I loved it even more than I imagined I would. I am as excited to see where the magazine goes next as I was in the summer of 1978 when I bought my first issue.” Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who wrote the story, and Sean Woods, who edited the piece, are still on staff.
Earlier in the day, three former UVA fraternity members filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media, and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely for defamation and negligent infliction of emotional distress, saying they suffered “vicious and hurtful attacks” due to the inaccurate article. George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford, and Ross Fowler are all 2013 graduates and former members of Phi Kappa Psi, where the attack reportedly took place. The suit alleges that the story had a “devastating effect” on the men’s reputations, as the article “created a simple and direct way to match the alleged attackers.” Their names were posted online and Elias’s room was clearly “the mostly likely scene of the alleged crime.” The suit says that after the story was published, “family friends, acquaintances, co-workers and reporters easily matched (Elias) as one of the alleged attackers and, among other things, interrogated him, humiliated him, and scolded him.”
Hadford and Fowler say they faced a similar reaction. “Plaintiffs have each suffered emotional turmoil, were entirely unable to focus at work and in school following release of the article and are still being questioned often about the article’s accusations,” the lawsuit states. The men are seeking at least $75,000 in damages for each count.
In May, UVA associate dean of students Nicole Eramo filed a $7.85 million defamation lawsuit against the same three parties over the way she was portrayed in the article. “I am filing this defamation lawsuit to set the record straight — and to hold the magazine and the author of the article accountable for their actions in a way they have refused to do themselves,” Eramo said.
This post has been updated throughout.