Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, the vigilant and rigorous non-profit that critiques and delineates the difference between facts and lies in the news (and entertainment) media, defines defamation via a intelligent and thorough essay about three libel lawsuits against The New York Post, Glenn Beck and National Review: Libel: Will Defamation Suits Doom Three Right-Wing Media Outlets? | Blog | Media Matters for America which begins:
Libel and slander cases are increasingly viewed as long-shot legal propositions that aren’t worth the effort required to see the cases to completion only to suffer defeat. But three high-profile libel suits against media organizations are bucking that trend and making their way through the legal system. Two of them have already cleared steep judicial hurdles, opening the way for the discovery phase and possible jury trials. All involve well-know conservative media defendants: National Review, the New York Post and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.
As Media Matters has documented for years, newsroom standards for conservative journalists leave much to be desired and outlets routinely trample over established norms of responsible behavior. But has the recklessness reached such heights, and have the attacks become so slanderous, that courts will rule against the offending media outlets? And if so, how high could the penalties run?
“Damages for every case come down to whatever the jury wants them to be,” former New York Times general counsel George Freeman tells Media Matters.
Responding to speculation that a pricey courtroom loss could drive National Review out of business, publisher Jack Fowler assured readers in January that the magazine has libel insurance to cover damages, although he conceded “our insurance does not cover all the costs related to the suit.” But even if the three outlets avoid a big jury loss, simply paying the legal fees becomes tantamount. “The costs can be absolutely staggering,” says Robert Drechsel, professor at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in media law.
Not surprisingly, the three headline-making suits revolve around hot-button issues for the right-wing media: last year’s Boston Marathon terror bombing case, which led to the suits against the New York Post and Beck, and the political jousting over climate change, which pits National Review versus Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann.
“All three are plausible libels suits,” says Drechsel.
I recommend reading the entire piece, and clicking on the internal links. (I was especially agitated about Glenn Beck, his The Blaze and the lawsuit against him. Except through Media Matters, I have no awareness of what Beck, Limbaugh and their like are saying. Whenever I have picked up something, I’ve been appalled that no one has challenged them in court. Apparently there are limitations to what they must imagine are their First Amendment rights to say anything about anybody.)