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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

OT: The Sacrificial Goat

The Supreme Court has decided that truthful reports recording the false utterances of politicians are not shielded by the First Amendment, and so the West Chester, Pa Daily Local News must pay on a libel suit.
... the justices let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that a newspaper can be forced to pay damages for having reported that a city councilman called the mayor and the council president "liars," "queers" and "child molesters."

The case turned on whether the 1st Amendment's protection of the freedom of the press includes a "neutral reporting privilege." Most judges around the nation have said the press does not enjoy this privilege.


The case that reached the high court began 10 years ago when the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., printed a story titled "Slurs, Insults Drag Town Into Controversy." It reported that the city council in nearby Parkesburg had been torn apart by shouting matches and fistfights. The most outspoken councilman was William T. Glenn Sr.

In comments during a meeting and in an interview with a news reporter, Glenn referred to Mayor Alan Wolfe and Councilman James Norton as "liars" and a "bunch of draft dodgers." He also strongly suggested that they were homosexuals who had put themselves "in a position that gave them an opportunity to have access to children."

So the Court, abandoning reason, now makes the press responsible for reporting the facts when politician Smith slanders politician Jones.

Technically, the U.S. Supreme Court hasn't decided anything. It simply refused to take an appeal from the Penn. Supreme Court. This is pretty common, since the Supreme Court gets about 6000 requests per year for cases to be heard, and only takes about 80 cases. From a legal standpoint, the fact that the Supreme Court refused to take a case doesn't have any significance.
Yeah, the Court could just as easily take another case on the same issue next year and rule that it's protected. There may have been reasons specific to the case why the Court felt this particular case wasn't a good vehicle to take the case. (Also, recall that it only takes 4 Justices to agree to hear a case).

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