On Defamation

I got an email on defamation this morning that I want to publish. I’ve asked for permission before I run it. Stay tuned.

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I got the go ahead.

This comes from the Chief editor……if that the right title……………of the monthly Zenith City Weekly. It has a companion website.

I think the presence of Duluth’s alternative press is healthy for our community. I fear that in these hard times for local newspapers the Tribune has gotten woefully cautious, insular, and Chamber of Commerce addicted.

Jennifer Martin Romme is precise and colorful in her take on the use of the word “defamation” by Chuck Frederick. I think it was more a case of careless word usage myself but the fact is words matter. There is nothing more indicative of a thin skin than a word that reaches too far to fit the circumstances.

So did I defame the Duluth News Tribune? Jennifer doesn’t think so:

Sounds like Chuck Frederick needs to brush up on the meaning of defamation. “you certainly defamed the News Tribune by suggesting (outright stating that) we’re not publishing letters because we disagree with their views.”

No, you didn’t. You can suggest it, insinuate it, outright state it, whatever. It’s opinion. You were, in essence, saying the DNT (or at least Chuck’s section of it) is biased. For a statement to be defamatory, it has to be falsifiable (ref. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., Mar-Jac Poultry v. Katz, Sandals v. Google ). Your assertion is not falsifiable. Ergo, it is not defamatory. He’s pulling your leg.

Opinions aren’t libelous just because the subject doesn’t like or agree with them. They have to be:

(a) Communicated in writing to a third party;

(b) A statement asserted as fact that can be proven false; and

(c) Since reporters and editors (and school board members) are all public figures, it has to be made with “actual malice,” meaning “reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.”

Good luck to any newspaper trying to prove that some variation of, “You’re biased,” meets those criteria. What a hoot!

But it annoys me when people who clearly know better (or should know better) use “defamation” as a cudgel to try to keep people from expressing their opinions. No one in the press has any business demanding that you contact them prior to expressing your opinions about them, or demanding that you not post about your interactions with them.

Put on your big-boy pants, Chuck! We’re all public figures here.

Jennifer Martin-Romme