Casting Immunity Before Swine

A lawsuit against an Oregon blogger has prevailed, at least for now…

​A U.S. District Court judge in Portland has drawn a line in the sand between “journalist” and “blogger.” And for Crystal Cox, a woman on the latter end of that comparison, the distinction has cost her $2.5 million.

Speaking to Seattle Weekly, Cox says that the judgement could have impacts on bloggers everywhere.

It was a defamation suit.  The plaintiff alleged that Ms.Cox had written many things about him that were untrue and malicious; the judged tossed all but one of the counts, but since Ms.Cox couldn’t verify the truth of the statement – well, if you’d read my series over the fall about defamation, you’d know that can be a bad thing for the respondent.

“This should matter to everyone who writes on the Internet,” she says.

As well it should.  If you write malicious, defamatory things that aren’t true, there should be consequences.  I have no idea if Cox is or is not guilty of defaming her accuser – and I hope that justice prevails, whatever it is in this case.

Now here’s where the case gets more important: Cox argued in court that the reason her post was more factual was because she had an inside source that was leaking her information. And since Oregon is one of 40 U.S. states including Washington with media shield laws, Cox refused to divulge who her source was.

But without revealing her source Cox couldn’t prove that the statements she’d made in her post were true and therefore not defamation, or attribute them to her source and transfer the liability.

Here’s where it gets skeevy:

Oregon’s media shield law reads:

No person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public shall be required by … a judicial officer … to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise … [t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public[.]

The judge in Cox’s case, however, ruled that the woman did not qualify for shield-law protection not because of anything she wrote, but because she wasn’t employed by an official media establishment.

So – the rules change if you get a paycheck from a legacy media organization?

I’m not sure if Cox is guilty or not – but the mainstream media should get no special protections the rest of society don’t get.

14 thoughts on “Casting Immunity Before Swine

  1. Selective application of the law is unacceptable. You get the shield if you work for NBC, but we all know “Faux News” isn’t a real media organization? If you’re “news” is sanctioned, you’re golden? This shit is Stalinist.

  2. What Kermit said. And the “source” for this blogger must be a real prince, too, letting Cox dangle like that.

  3. Well, it’s entirely possible Cox lied. I’m only commenting obliquely on the defamation case; it’s about the double standard. The mainstream media doesn’t do anything we all don’t do anymore – including promiscuously mixing opinion and reporting.

  4. My husband is fighting a person who has started up “blogs” to defame him. Guess what? It’s caused him MAJOR headaches with his employer. And the postings by this jerk are complete, utter fabrications.

    If someone goes on the internet and creates a blog with the sole intention of defaming you, there should be some recourse.

    I have another friend whose entire career was destroyed in this manner.
    Those “blogger” jerks actually contacted potential employers and told them to “stay away” from my friend. He’s now unemployable because of lies spread by an anonymous blogger.

    So tell me: What’s the line? How far can some “blogger” go before you are allowed to fight back against the defamation and smears? Hmm?

  5. The Oregon law dates back to . . . wait for it . . . the 1960’s.
    It seems to be a case of the government deciding who is, and who is not, given special privileges because they are acting in the public interest. Sounds dangerous to me.

  6. Well, it’s entirely possible Cox lied.

    Yep, which is why I deployed the scare quotes around “source.”

  7. This is a relative of the Citizens United case. When the SCOTUS decided that ALL corporations and other organized entities are entitled to advocate a particular position or for a particular candidate, it was the height of hypocracy for large corporations who happen to be in the media business (including the NYT and WaPo and others – NewsCorp(?)) to say that only they had these access to the 1st Amendment in this way. Who gave the government the power to decide what or who is a legitimate news organization entitled to those protections?

  8. “The Oregon law dates back to . . . wait for it . . . the 1960′s.”

    Because the legislature back then, with their supernatural powers, were able to foresee blogging.

    No, it’s just another example of a judge screwing up the interpretation of a law. To wit: the law as quoted (and assuming that it is accurate and complete as relevant to this situation) with my emphasis added to tease out the nuance:

    “No person connected with, employed by or *engaged in any medium of communication to the public* shall be required by … a judicial officer … to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise … [t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public

    That “engaged in ANY medium” bit is awfully broad and would seem to include blogging. And pamphleteering. And shouting from a bullhorn.

    The judge screwed the pooch here.

  9. Curious…. I happen to have a couple of defamation and data practice abuse irons heating in the fire for a certain employee of a state institution of higher learning who shall remain unnamed….developing!

  10. Not being a lawyer, I am curious as to how tamminator’s comments could be addressed. I’m sure that none of us want to be in the position to fight an anonymous blogger that is a blatant liar, but if we have to, what is the recourse for the average schmoe?

  11. bosshoss:
    I’d love to hear how people deal with it/have dealt with it. I helped my husband track down the man’s employer, and some of his “questionable” videos on My Space, and my husband is in the process of serving a cease and desist….to his employer.

    My husband had fired the man FIVE years ago for stealing. The stuff this jerk is spreading on the internet is flat out libelous garbage. What does one do to fight this kind of crap?

    Now I understand how those poor girls bullied on Facebook must feel.

  12. Unnamed sources should be viewed skeptically. Just like anonymous blog posters or callers to radio shows. However, this judge got it wrong in my opinion. Thomas Paine would be jailed under this ruling.

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