by Pamela Powers Hannley
This week, a shockwave rippled through Tucson's blogosphere when TucsonCitizen.com Editor Mark Evans pulled the Three Sonorans blog from the citizen journalism website. I' not going to offer a lengthy rehash of the facts of the case or the pros and cons of blogger David Morales' or Evans' actions because many have already done that on Facebook and multiple blogs, including Dave Safier on this site.
The Tucson Sentinel quoted Evans as having said that Morales had a "reckless disregard for the truth." Safier said that Morales led "with his passion" and that "absolute accuracy doesn't seem to be important to him [Morales]". Many charges have been leveled against Evans-- claiming that he violated Morales' freedom of speech and that he censored Morales. I agree with Safier on this. Evans, working for news giant Gannett, can offer the TC blogging interface to anyone they want and can rescind that offer whenever they want. On the other hand, Morales is free to rebirth the Three Sonorans wherever he wants. (And those of us who know him fully expect that he'll be back.)
There also have many calls on Facebook for Evans and Gannett to man up and fearlessly face any lawsuits initiated by the people who feel that Morales has misrepresented-- or defamed-- them. The most recent complaints and threats came from Arizona Rep. Daniel Patterson, but he is only one in a very long list of politicians who have been skewered-- most noteably, former City Councilman Rodney Glassman, former City Manager Mike Hein, Arizona attorney general (at least for now) Tom Horne, former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the hapless management of Tucson Unified School District, and even Latino activist Dolores Huerta.
Blogger loses defamation case
This brings me to the questions at hand. Are attack blogs protected speech? Yes. Does freedom of the press include blogging? Maybe. Are bloggers really journalists? Sometimes.
Although blogging is protected under freedom of speech, bloggers may not always qualify as "journalists," according to the judge's decision in the defamation lawsuit against blogger Crystal Cox. (The similarities to the TucsonCitizen.com drama are striking.)
From Freelanse Switch...
At the beginning of this year, I was following the case of Crystal Cox, the “investigative blogger” who had been sued by the Obsidian Finance Group for defamation because she had blogged that the company had engaged in fraud. That’s a big accusation.
"Initially, the blogosphere sounded the alarm at what seemed to be an attack by powerful moneyed interests on a crusading blogger. But a cursory investigation revealed that Ms. Cox employed a number of unorthodox tactics for a journalist, including registering dozens of domain names of people she perceived as her enemies in order to initiate serial and often profane salvos against them." —New York Times
She lost her case and was fined $2.5 million. [Emphasis added.] According to U.S. District Court Judge, Marco A. Hernandez, Crystal Cox did not fit his definition of a journalist. Judge Hernandez’s qualifications to be a journalist are as follows:
- Education in journalism.
- Credentials or proof of affiliation with a recognized news entity.
- Proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest.
- Keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted.
- Mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his or her sources.
- Creation of an independent product, rather than assembling the writings and postings of others.
- Contacting “the other side” to get both sides of the story.
The article continues with a highly salient point...
People who have a beef with a business can’t just go online and blog about untruths and expect to hide behind the first amendment. Reputations and money are at stake and a big business isn’t just going to roll over for just anyone. [Emphasis added.]