By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by three University of Virginia graduates who accused Rolling Stone magazine, its publisher Wenner Media and a journalist of defamation over a now-debunked article describing a gang rape.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan said details about the alleged attackers in the November 2014 article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely were "too vague and remote" to make readers believe that the plaintiffs George Elias IV, Ross Fowler and Stephen Hadford had a role in the alleged rape.
"In the plaintiffs' own words, 'any apparent connection between the plaintiffs and the allegations is an (unfortunate) coincidence,'" Castel wrote.
He added that the plaintiffs had no connection to the rape described in the article, and were not named there.
Alan Frank, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients will review their options, including a possible appeal. A lawyer for the defendants declined to comment.
The plaintiffs all graduated in 2013 and had been members of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity at the center of Erdely's article, "A Rape on Campus."
Rolling Stone apologized in December 2014 for what it called "discrepancies" in the article, which described an attack on a woman identified as Jackie, after it had sparked a national debate over sexual violence on college campuses.
A probe by police in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the university is located, found no evidence that Jackie had been gang-raped.
Managing editor Will Dana, who helped edit Erdely's article, later resigned. A review by the Columbia University journalism school commissioned by Rolling Stone faulted the magazine for reporting and editing lapses.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Andrew Hay)