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  1. #1
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    Default Hearsay Statements and Defamation Liability

    My question involves defamation in the state of: Idaho

    I understand that with libel, the burden of proof is on the person who made the statement, because it reached so many people, whereas with slander, the burden of poof is on the person seeking suit, since not many people were told.

    Suppose someone tells a news reporter that Mike kills babies (slander, right?). The news reporter then truthfully reports that Sam told him that Mike kills babies. The news reporter has told the truth, and is held harmless, right? and since Sam did not publish it, but rather the reporter published it, that means that this is slander, not libel. So, even though millions of people heard that Sam said Mike kills babies, and Mike's reputation is ruined, the burden of proof is on Mike that he does not kill babies. That statement could be hard to prove either way. Is this a loophole around the spirit of libel law and burden of proof?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: A Loophole Around Libel Burden of Proof

    I'm not sure I understand What your getting at. You seem to agree that Mike has been slandered but you don't believe that the INTENTIONAL act of telling a reporter to have the defamation published is libel. Now, the reporter, and his newspaper, TV station et c., have a burden of responsibility to investigate the claim. If this burden is not met then the reporter et c. may have committed libel.
    So, the reporter testifies to the slander of Mike. Easy peasey The reporter is Mike's witness to slander. Fred, the defamer, can defend himself by showing that Mike kills babies.
    Now let's look at libel. Fred, the reporter, and the newspaper are being sued for libel. They all most show that they investigated the claim. If they didn't, they are screwed. Understand that if they've all met their investigatory obligations then Fred dodges both slander and libel and the others dodge libel.
    Why this strange hypothetical. Get a lawyer if you've been killing babies. The cops and the DA will beat the crap out of you in a criminal case.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: A Loophole Around Libel Burden of Proof

    The reporter does not necessarily have to prove independent investigation of a claim. Under the New York Times vs. Sullivan standard, the reporter can only be sued if the reporter repeated the statement knowing it to be false or in reckless disregard for the truth. If the source of the allegation is sufficiently reliable (e.g,., "The Washington Post has reported that Mike kills and eats babies", or likely, "Sam Smith, chief of police of Happyville, has stated that following an investigation his department has concluded that Mike kills and eats babies"), the reporter is unlikely to have any further obligation to investigate. On the other hand, if Sam is an alcoholic vagrant who stumbles up to the reporter declaring, "Mike kills and eats babies" the reporter had best do some serious investigation before repeating the allegation as if it may be true.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: A Loophole Around Libel Burden of Proof

    Quote Quoting Mr. Knowitall
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    The reporter does not necessarily have to prove independent investigation of a claim. Under the New York Times vs. Sullivan standard, the reporter can only be sued if the reporter repeated the statement knowing it to be false or in reckless disregard for the truth.
    It is worth noting, though, that standard only applies in the case where the allegedly defamed person is a public figure, e.g. government official, celebrity, etc. Where the allegedly defamed person is just an ordinary person that heightened standard does not apply.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: A Loophole Around Libel Burden of Proof

    Yeah... I was speaking in relation to the duty to investigate, but it's tricky to get into these issues without getting into the weeds.

    An actor or celebrity is a voluntary public figure. A criminal or crime victim can become an involuntary public figure -- if you are the subject of newsworthy events, you can expect to be regarded as a public figure at a minimum in relation to those events. A person may also become a public figure by being voluntarily or involuntarily drawn into a matter of public controversy, albeit perhaps with their status as a public figure being limited to that controversy. Whether a government official, celebrity, involuntary public figure or limited public figure, within the context for which you are a public figure the Times vs. Sullivan standard applies.

    If "Dave" is an ordinary person, accused to a reporter by another ordinary person of killing and eating babies, the reporter had best investigate the report as previously described. Simply repeating what turns out to be a false allegation without a reasonable basis to believe that it is true would leave the reporter and paper potentially liable under the state's defamation laws, and would not implicate the protections of Times vs. Sullivan both because "Dave" was not a public figure and because, leaving that issue aside, the paper would almost certainly be found to have acted with reckless disregard for the truth. The reporter's reckless disregard for the truth would also take the matter outside of Times vs. Sullivan even if "Dave" were a public figure.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: A Loophole Around Libel Burden of Proof

    I read in the Idaho Statesman that a college woman accused three black athletes of raping her last semester. It said she claims he blocked the door, making her feel scared enough to play along. His story matched hers except he said he did not block the door. The paper says the school found him responsible because her story sounds credible, and expelled him. The paper says the school would not comment on any of this.

    If the expelled student sues for defamation, is the burden of proof on him or her? This is critical if it can't be proven either way.

    Publishing that he was found responsible is very damaging to him. Most people assume such a finding means he is more likely than not guilty. However, the department of education does not cut federal funding to schools that expel men who appear innocent, but it does threaten to cut funding to those who fail to effectively remedy sexual assault and use a preponderance standard. The dear college letter said a preponderance standard would be used to determine if a preponderance standard was used. So, rather than flip a coin with their funding or be the next $1million lawsuit, they play it safe and expel the accused. My guess is in order to avoid expulsion, he must have convincing evidence they can use to cover their butts in a lawsuit. The public does not know about the standard being lower than preponderance, so they will judge the those found repinsible even worse.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: A Loophole Around Libel Burden of Proof

    If he wants to come here to ask about his case, we can analyze his situation.

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