Saturday, February 24, 2007
Blogging about public figures does not relieve one of responsibility
Politicians often do not like the way that journalists depict them. When something embarrassing about their office or their public life is written about, they give the impression (and solemnly affirm to their close friends and supporters) that they have been misquoted, or the facts are wrong, or the reporter is out to get them, or any such nonsense.
The reality is that probably nothing was done wrong. There are cases when journalists allow 'he said, she said' and that is probably the place where you can find excesses. But even then responsible journalists have to be able to identify (at least to a court if it comes up) who said what. I've even been on the down side of that rule in other publications but did not pursue or publicly comment other than to deny what has been said. But I dealt with it because the reporter spoke to someone who at least actually had a conversation with me and, while that person may have lied, the journalist had to evaluate their credibility and if it was good (there are legal standards for that too) then they might decide to go forward. Guess what? People in office have good credibility by virtue of their office, and some don't like me because I put the truth out. So, a few like abusing their status by going after me. To a certain degree, I have to put up with nonsense like anyone else who lives in the public eye.
In truth, all journalists have the same standards for methods of research, which are geared to a legal expectation of proficiency to ensure they do not legally imperil themselves, their editors, publishers or publication. All newspapers that have any sense of self-preservation possess newspaper insurance, which covers libel and defamation. The insurance companies have to be reasonably sure that anyone who is going to be writing about anyone is doing it in a way that is at least minimally responsible.
The truth is hard sometimes, but public figures (and I do not exclude myself) have to deal with the fact they have a reduced expectation of privacy and do open themselves up for public scrutiny to a certain degree. In the case of lawmakers, especially those who choose to make a living off of tax money in their day jobs...what do they expect? This is especially true when politicians make their living off the public dime, spend tax money and/or appoint their relatives and friends to public posts and basically have any number of financial priviledges with public funds. Why wouldn't they expect to be reported on? People do not like taxes and the more politicians want people to give them tax money the less people want to pay it and the more newsworthy it becomes.
But journalists have standards of reporting, and someone who doesn't have that methodology or regard for reporting fact, should probably avoid going after people. Why? They can be sued successfully. People have rights, even public figures. Someone cannot make something up about someone. They cannot be reckless or malicious. They cannot publicly attack people without a basis of fact where it regards several key categories. There are all kinds of things they cannot do. Journalists do not have more rights than anyone else; they just know how to use the rights they have, in accordance with the law. Americans have rights, and I have as many or as few as anyone else, even Monmouth County Republicans.
With whatever anyone wants to say about me or my reporters, the fact is that no one has ever sued me or my newspaper. They have not been able to do so much as bring a case or actually threaten one. How do you know that is true? Well, I wouldn't be paying my mortgage, going to work or putting anything away in my IRA. As for the misguided belief that one can say anything they want, even about a public figure...it's misguided. If you're a blogger, use your head and play a square game and it will not bite you because otherwise it will.
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