Monday, December 20, 2004

Is TV talk evidence of reporter's malice?

A libel lawsuit in Massachusetts raises the question of whether statements a reporter makes on a TV talk show can provide evidence of malice in a libel suit against that reporter, the Washington Post reports. State Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy is suing the Boston Herald and four of its writers about a series of reports that questioned his treatment of crime victims. One alledged that Murphy had dismissed the trauma of a 14-year-old rape victim by saying, "Tell her to get over it."

The case, set for trial next month in Suffolk Superior Court, is significant, the Washington Post says, because it uses the rambunctious exchange on a talk show to try to prove the malicious intent of a newspaper reporter. The brief cites statements made by a Herald writer not just in the pages of the tabloid but also on Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor." The Post reports:
The case "reflects the perils of this new media culture" in which reporters go on the air to promote their stories, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. While editors scrutinize and sanitize reporters' words before they appear in print, no one performs that function in live TV interviews.

"When reporters who write stories, then go on the air to discuss" them, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "things tend to escalate. . . . If their appearances are going to be used to craft evidence of malice and reckless disregard for the truth in a print story, we're in very dangerous territory. I think this will have very serious implications for journalists."

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