Tag Archives: libel

Media Law Case of the Week

A Staples salesman is fired, and Staples sends out an email notifying its employees that said employee was fired for violating company rules regarding expense reimbursements.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled recently that the salesman can sue for libel even though the information is true because of a 1902 Massachusetts state law that allows libel suits for “ill will.”

It is a decision that had Robert J. Ambrogi–executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Association, lawyer and Media Law blogger–issuing a prudent warning:

For the time being, however, be afraid — be very, very afraid — of this precedent. If ill will is all that is needed to turn a truthful statement into libel, then everyone is a potential defendant.

Sadly, last week, the same court refused to rehear the case. According to the Boston Globe, the court also “refused to accept a friend-of-the-court brief filed by 51 news organizations that said the earlier ruling could chill news reporting.”

For details of the case, see the Boston Globe story.

Media Law Case of the Week

I’ve decided to start a new feature on my blog:  Media Law Case of the Week.

The Media Law Case of the Week will appear on Mondays and feature a case I think is interesting, different and/or important. I decided that since I’m combing the Net for interesting cases for the media law class I teach, I may as well start sharing the best of what I find on my blog.

So, without further ado, the Media Law Case of the Week:

It’s not often a libel case involves a Disney star and an escort service, but the recently settled case of “Suite Life” star Brenda Song fits the bill. Ads for an escort service ran with Song’s picture and the slogan “Hawaiin [sic] beauty. Come get lei’d.” in LA Weekly in April 2008. The kicker is Song never authorized the use of her image. She sued for libel, emotional distress and commercial appropriation of her likeness. (Oh those pesky details … ) For details of the case and the settlement, check here.

Lawmaker’s blog protected from libel suit?!

A Tennessee lawmaker’s lawyer is claiming that his client is immune from a libel suit after he falsely wrote on his blog that a candidate had been arrested on drug charges because the blog is “absolutely privileged.”


I’m no lawyer, but I know that is not going to fly.  Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, better say mea aculpa or get a new lawyer. Roger Byrge, a Democrat who lost his bid for the state House to Republican Chad Faulkner, filed a $750,000 libel suit against Campfield for writing that Byrge had had multiple drug arrests.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press wrote:

In the Oct. 12 blog post, Campfield said more attention needed to be paid to the race for the open seat in House District 36.

“Word is a … mail piece has gone out exposing Byrge’s multiple separate drug arrests,” Campfield wrote on the blog. “Including arrests for possession and drug dealing. (I hear the mug shots are gold).”

The parts of the post mentioning Byrge are no longer on Campfield’s blog, but a printout of the original text is filed as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

Using Clemens case to teach libel

Thanks, Roger Clemens, for making it easier for my media law students to understand libel, and more importantly, libel defenses.

It can be hard for some students to get a grasp of the libel defense absolute privilege, which protects participants in certain government proceedings. But baseball star Clemens has made the concept more relevant to my students.

The New York Times reports that a large part of Clemens’s defamation case against former trainer Brian McNamee over Clemens’s alleged steroid use has been thrown out of federal court because McNamee’s statements were made during an official federal investigation. That means McNamee is protected by absolute privilege.

That’s libel defense in action with names students know. And that’s a great teaching tool. So thanks again, Mr. Clemens, for helping my students’ libel knowledge “rocket.”

Quirky Irish libel case

The good news: The Irish News, a Belfast paper, won its appeal of the the libel case filed by the owner of Goodfellas pizzeria over a bad restaurant review. The original verdict had The Irish News paying out 25,000 pounds, roughly $36,000 U.S.

The bad news: The Irish News has to pay all its court costs, according to the Court of Appeal.

Apparently the food is not the only thing that stinks.

Times sued over McCain lobbyist relationship story

This story broke over the holidays, and somehow I missed it. I’m guessing many others did, too.

The lobbyist linked to Sen. John McCain  filed a defamation suit against The New York Times late last month. You may recall that when the Times’s article ran in February 2008 people both inside and outside the media questioned whether McCain had an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Both McCain and Iseman said they did not have an affair nor an inappropriate relationship, but Iseman believes the article implied an affair. The Times maintains the article did not say the couple had an affair, but brought up concerns by staffers that the relationship between a senator and a lobbyist might be seen as inappropriate.

Iseman’s lawyers are seeking $27 million in damages.

Journalism groups fight NJ decision

Thank goodness 19 news organizations are fighting a ridiculous New Jersey appellate court decision that said that journalists could  be sued for libel for accurately reporting legal complaints.

The groups — which include ABC, the New York Times, the ACLU and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — have asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

Circumsion claim cause for libel suit

The New York Times’s Sewell Chan writes about an unusual libel case involving whether it is libelous to incorrectly report that someone is not circumcised.

A Queens man is suing Centropa, a group with the mission of preserving Jewish culture, for just that. The story is worth a read.

Scary libel case decision in NJ

A NJ appeals court has ruled a newspaper can be sued for libel for reporting complaints made in court documents before the case goes to court. (Story here.)

Talk about scary. If a journalist can’t report on government records until the government wants it to, what is next?