Let’s imagine that a reporter (or a blogger!) attends a political event where a politician accuses specific opponents of being homosexuals and child molesters. The journalist writes a report about the event that includes the charges leveled by the unbalanced politician, quoted verbatim. The article even includes a rebuttal from the slander victim. Nevertheless, the writer and the publisher of the article eventually find themselves as defendants of a slander action, presumably along with the idiot who made the comments in the first place.
Would the case get thrown out of court, as it amounts to nothing more than a truthful account of a public event? Not if the writer works in Pennsylvania, or apparently even in the United States:
The Supreme Court refused Monday to step into a lawsuit against a newspaper, leaving the media in Pennsylvania legally vulnerable when they report defamatory comments by public figures. …
The justices’ decision not to consider the case was a victory for the former mayor and current council president of Parkesburg, Pa., who sued when the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., reported that a council member claimed they were homosexuals. The newspaper reported the councilman also had issued a statement strongly implying that he considered the two officials to be “queers and child molesters.”
The newspaper quoted the council president as saying that if the councilman had made comments “as bizarre as that then I feel very sad for him and I hope he can get the help he needs.”
At issue is the neutral reporting privilege which allows the press to convey a reputable public figure’s defamatory comment as long as it is reported neutrally and accurately.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that no such privilege exists, though the privilege is recognized by some state and federal courts.
I wish I could be shocked at the Supreme Court’s refusal to affirm what should be common sense, but after watching them approve the BCRA, they’ve completely lost any credibility on the First Amendment. This is just another example of a court so devoid of common sense that they cannot distinguish between the idiot who makes slanderous statements and the people who make sure that the idiot gets identified. Shouldn’t the people of West Chester know that their elected official uses character assassination for political gain?
The Daily Local News did not create the accusations; they only reported them, fairly and accurately. The citizens of West Chester found out what a despicable character they had elected to the city council and that allowed them to kick him off the council at the next election. It appears that the plaintiffs only included the Daily Local News in their lawsuit in order to take advantage of the deep pockets of the newspaper, rather than appreciating their role in shaming a backward and ignorant fool.
So the reward for telling the truth to the citizens of West Chester is that the Daily News and the reporter now have to defend themselves in the same manner as the idiot who made the public statements they reported. Anyone with a lick of common sense and any understanding of free speech would see the injustice inherent in this resolution. Unfortunately, those qualities elude the Pennsylvania legal system and apparently a majority of the Supreme Court.