Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More dismal news for MSM (mainstream media)

Picture this.

You're a reporter covering a small-town city council meeting.

Small-town city council meetings are not noted for either their decorum or the quality of their indoor lighting.

One city councilman calls another city councilman and the mayor "liars," "queers" and "child molesters."

You go back to the office, tell the boss the meeting was a real humdinger and type up the story.

Then you get sued for libel.

Wait a minute. You were just a bystander, the eyes and ears of the people. You heard what was said in an open meeting and dutifully wrote it down in your official Reporter's Notebook. You didn't say it. That nutty city councilman said it!

You just reported what happened at the meeting. And that was damn sure the most interesting thing that happened, the inverted pyramid style of news reporting being what it is.

Doesn't matter. Your newspaper can still be sued for libel.

That's what the U.S. Supreme Court has decided. Oh, you still may not lose the libel case, but you and your newspaper can't just be dismissed as defendants before trial.

Somehow, this reminds me of another small-town city council meeting I once covered. It was a rowdy meeting. People were worked up. The air was hot and heavy. People were smoking (yes, it was a long time ago). Finally, the cork popped, and someone got up and called the council members "incompetents."

I picked up the newspaper of my competition the next morning to read their story to compare with my story. Their story reported that someone in the meeting got up and called the council members "communists."

The reporter didn't mean any ill will. He was just hard of hearing. And he heard communists. But they were really just incompetents.

I wonder if the hard-of-hearing reporter would have to stand trial in today's climate, where the news for the print media just seems to get worse and worse each day. Yeah, probably.


Kevin said...

We've been mucking up the First Amendment for quite a little while now.

I'm less concerned about MSM getting sued here, because they have editors and such to make sure they conform with whatever the latest whim might be in First Amendment jurisprudence.

But what if a blogger goes and does this?

Banjo Jones said...

I think it's only a matter of time before bloggers start getting sued, our litigous society being what it is. Just to shut them up, teach them a lesson, etc. Lawyers are expensive. And bloggers are poor, relatively speaking.

Kimberly said...

Uh... Were they incompetent Communists, maybe?