Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imus t'have missed it

With all the hot air about Don Imus' oral diarrhea, I surely missed the part that addressed the difference between this particular case of potty mouth and the 4 million previous examples.

To me, it's simple (and rather stunning that no journalist seems to mention it) -- it is that this time, Imus libeled his target. He didn't just say something generally insulting to a group of people, he met the standard for libel and probably even the N.Y. Times v. Sullivan standard for actual malice (defamation of a public figure).

Identification - Imus clearly identified 10 individuals, far different from saying something defamatory about a group -- like long-haired, slutty white men.

Defamation - I think it's pretty clear that he held these young women up to public embarassment and humiliation. Moreover, their injury is compounded by the followers of this rant in that they recevied hate mail and death threats.

Negligence - Imus clearly could have avoided this injury to his victims by exercising ordinary care.

Provably false - The statements about the promiscuity of these athletes is easily disproved through character witnesses.

Malice - The kicker -- the women are aguably public figures which means that the malice standard would apply. Imus would have to know that these statements were false and say them anyway. He's done this, essentially, in suggesting that this would be the basis for his "joke" being funny.

So for all the speculation of inpact in social policy and worries over a chilling effect -- no worries. Defamatory speech has never been protected. I hope those players sue Imus, CBS radio and MSNBC in a whopper of a defamation suit.

They'll just have to get in line behine those Duke LAX players to collect.

--Jean Bolduc

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