When Reporting The News Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Report The News
Welcome to 1st Amendment bizarro world, where newspapers, magazines, and bloggers can be sued for ACCURATELY REPORTING claims made by politicians that are later ruled libelous:
” The Supreme Court refused Monday to shield the news media from being sued for accurately reporting a politician’s false charges against a rival.
Instead, the justices let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that a newspaper can be forced to pay damages for having reported that a city councilman called the mayor and the council president “liars,” “queers” and “child molesters.”
The case turned on whether the 1st Amendment’s protection of the freedom of the press includes a “neutral reporting privilege.” Most judges around the nation have said the press does not enjoy this privilege.
Lawyers for more than two dozen of the nation’s largest press organizations, including Tribune Co., which publishes the Los Angeles Times, had urged the court to take up the Pennsylvania case and to rule that truthful news reports on public figures deserved to be shielded.
They said politicians have been hurling false and damaging charges at their rivals throughout American history. The press cannot do its duty to inform the public if it is not free to report what public figures say, they argued.
But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said the press has never “enjoyed a blanket immunity” from being sued over stories that print falsehoods that damage a person’s reputation. The law “has placed a burden (albeit a minimal one) on the media to refrain from publishing reports that they know to be false,” the Pennsylvania court said.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the case sets no legal precedent. However, one lawyer involved in the dispute said the court’s action “signals the demise of the neutral reporting privilege.”
The case that reached the high court began 10 years ago when the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., printed a story titled “Slurs, Insults Drag Town Into Controversy.” It reported that the city council in nearby Parkesburg had been torn apart by shouting matches and fistfights. The most outspoken councilman was William T. Glenn Sr.
In comments during a meeting and in an interview with a news reporter, Glenn referred to Mayor Alan Wolfe and Councilman James Norton as “liars” and a “bunch of draft dodgers.” He also strongly suggested that they were homosexuals who had put themselves “in a position that gave them an opportunity to have access to children.”
When asked to respond, Norton was quoted as saying: “If Mr. Glenn has made comments as bizarre as that, then I feel very sad for him, and I hope he can get the help he needs.”
Later, the mayor and the councilman who were the targets of the charges sued both Glenn and the Daily Local News.”
So let me get this straight: members of the media are supposed to listen to what politicians say, apparently use some sort of super-power that allows us to determine whether a statement is libelous without the benefit of a court case, and then just black out any news that isn’t true.
That sounds fun and easy, right?
Moreover, whatever happened to the public’s “right-to-know?” I find it ironic that every deeply personal detail of a politician’s life is fair game for the press — and if that same politician stands on a stage full of reporters screaming that his political enemies are “liars,” “queers,” and “child molesters,” — that there are judges who think it should be ILLEGAL to let the public even know what was said.
Furthermore, have these justices really considered the chilling effect — of not allowing a neutral reporting privilege — that this could have on free speech? Consider this real world example cited by press lawyers:
“Otherwise, they said, for example, the press could not have reported last year on the charges lodged against Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth because Kerry’s supporters said their charges were false.”
Imagine simply reporting on a story like the Swift Boat Vets for Truth and getting a cease and desist letter from the Kerry campaign threatening legal action for simply detailing their allegations.
Depending on how this court case comes out, in a future election, we may not have to just imagine it…