Friday, September 08, 2006

The Path to ... Libel

The most important lesson in journalism school is the one that teaches you how to avoid getting sued. It's pretty simple - print the facts. Flasehoods that do injury are actionable.

It's conspicuous when reading the letters of former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that they understand the standard for them is higher. They are public figures - they are famous. That means, for example, that they are very available targets for commentary - even for some degree of false accusation. In order to libel them, they'd have to prove that the accused (in this case, the ABC network) published information about them or their actions that they knew to be false and defamatory (doing measurable injury to the reputation, holding them up to public distain). If ABC airs "The Path to 9/11" next week and does not edit out the falsehoods that have already been documented, it would seem very clear that these two will sue their pants off. It's clearly documented to be false. There's little question that it would injure their reputations. If ABC runs it anyway, they will meet the malice standard -- they knew it was wrong and they did it anyway.

Oh, it's not news, it's entertainment, right?

No. Not for this. Real names. Real places. Real events. Real big lawsuit.

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