Patterico's Pontifications

11/20/2006

California Supreme Court: Web Publishers Not Liable for Republishing Defamatory Statements by Third Parties

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Court Decisions,General — Patterico @ 9:09 pm

The California Supreme Court held today that “plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement.” (H/t Howard.) In other words, Web publishers currently have absolute immunity for the republication of allegedly defamatory statements originally made by others.

The implications of this ruling are significant, and are, in my view, a net positive for free speech in this country.

I await input from Justin Levine.

[Comment/Input from Justin Levine – not Patterico]:

As you might expect, I’m delighted with the decision. Broad immunities from defamation claims are an absolute necessity if you wish to have a robust Internet culture.

Sometimes legal compromises are constrained by the nature of the technology before us. Either you will embrace true Internet freedoms and all the wondrous possibilities it has brought in the last decade, or you will encourage a world where what you can publish will ultimately be dictated by how much financial and legal resources your subject has access to in order to intimidate you into silence. The nature of the Internet makes this a binary “either/or” proposition. On or off. 1 or 0. Anything else is simply splitting the baby I’m afraid.

Incidentally, I have no problem with

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Michael Richards Screams Racial Epithet on Video

Filed under: General,Race — Patterico @ 6:54 pm

Everybody seems to be talking about the video where Michael Richards (“Kramer” of Seinfeld fame) repeatedly screams a racial epithet at a guy during a stand-up comedy act. So I may as well link it. Give the people what they want, I always say.

He will apparently be on “Letterman” tonight to claim: “I’m not a racist, that’s what’s so insane about this.”

Yup, that’s pretty “insane,” all right.

Fighting the Information War

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General,War — Patterico @ 6:32 am

I spent much of the weekend chasing down a story about the L.A. Times‘s misreporting of an incident in Iraq. As part of my investigation, I corresponded with the press folks at CENTCOM. We ended up exchanging a few e-mails, as I tried to obtain a clear and unambiguous statement that I could use. (You’ll likely be reading more about this in the next 2-3 days.)

The final e-mail I received began this way:

Sir —

Thank you for your support for the troops; we appreciate your attempts to set the record straight on your blog; which by the way is very impressive and does have quite a following. However, this forum is reserved for credentialed media outlets. If we stop to answer every blogger in world who has a question we will be inundated. Our first priority is getting the credentialed media the correct information as quickly as possible so that they can present a balanced story. That in itself is quite a challenge, as you can imagine, in the fog of war and with intricacies of this mission. I hope that you will not take offense and understand, but please refrain from contacting the Press Desk unless you can provide media credentials.

Translation: “Let me say this politely. You are just a blogger and we have real media to deal with.”

I’m not a prima donna who thinks that the military should have to respond to my beck and call. I was actually rather sheepish about contacting these folks in the first place, and continually apologized for taking up their time when I sent follow-up e-mails. I understand that the press officers have limited resources, and can’t respond to every blogger in the world. I have no beef with this particular press officer, and I understand the limitations she is operating under.

However, I find it ironic that, in the very next line of the e-mail, the press officer confirmed that the L.A. Times had misreported a significant detail about the incident in Iraq. Namely, the L.A. Times had reported an airstrike when, according to the military, none had occurred. (More about the significance of this in coming days.) What’s more, the L.A. Times still has not reported the military’s denial.

Take a look at the bigger picture here. According to the military, the L.A. Times has failed to accurately report an important detail regarding an incident in Iraq. In other words, Big Media journalists — the very same journalists to whom press officers feel primary dedication — aren’t getting the facts out. But when a blogger writes to get the true facts, the military says, however politely: stop bugging us.

Big Media has a poor track record of reporting the military’s side of the story in a fair fashion. When a blogger contacts the military seeking to correct a major misstatement by the media, the military should want to communicate with the blogger.

If they don’t, there’s a problem there.

It has nothing to do with me, or this press officer.

It has everything to do with the fact that we are fighting a war, and part of the war that the enemy is fighting is a propaganda war. In the context of the Israel/Hezbollah conflict, we’ve already seen evidence that Muslim terrorists are willing to manufacture fake stories of civilian casualties. And the press is often too eager to accept them.

The military has to recognize that our enemies are not simply trying to kill our soldiers with bullets and IEDs. They are also trying to kill our will with false facts.

Bloggers want to get the truth out. They want to correct misleading press reports. But if they are going to do that effectively, the military needs to work with them.

On the bright side, this appears to be an isolated incident. Other bloggers have put me in touch with press officers who have been excellent in providing context and additional information. The military needs more of that.

UPDATE: Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the link.

In light of Michelle’s post, I should probably make it clear that I did not feel entirely “blown off” by the Press Desk. I exchanged several e-mails with a couple of different press officers before I received the message quoted in the post above. They were trying to be as helpful as possible, but I was seeking a definitive statement that the lower-ranking press officers seemed unable to provide. Perhaps for that reason, one of them apparently got a Captain involved — at which point I got my definitive statement, but was also told not to contact them again without “media credentials” (whatever those are).

It may be that, in my concern to be precise and absolutely accurate, I tried the patience of the Captain. In any event, I don’t fault her; it’s nothing personal; and I certainly don’t want to appear whiny or self-important. My overarching point is simple: I think that the military should view bloggers as allies in the mission of getting the truth out — especially in cases like the one I described, where Big Media has proven itself incapable of reporting the military’s point of view. And while they can’t respond to every blogger, I think it makes sense for them to respond to polite queries from bloggers seeking to correct major errors in Big Media.


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