Friday, December 7, 2012
Featuring Piranha Mom, whom we have long known as the first Patricia who graciously changed her name on this blog to Piranha Mom to accommodate the new Patricia, posted the following comment at 5:12 am this morning.
I am featuring it today because it’s accurate, succinct, and I could not have said it better.
For those of you who want to read the SCOTUS cases that are the source of the legal rule defining the elements of a cause of action for defamation against a public official or public figure, the cases are New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), which stated the new rule for cases involving public officials and Curtis Publishing v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967), which extended that rule to cases involving public figures.
I imagine that the defense will argue that NBC should not benefit from the relaxed legal standard of liability for a public figure because NBC’s defamatory and outrageous remarks made GZ a public figure. That argument is unlikely to prevail because, as Piranha Mom points out, he already had achieved that status and notoriety by stalking, confronting and shooting to death a peaceful and non-violent Black teenager named Trayvon Martin, who was armed only with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles while walking home in the rain talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone.
Piranha Mom writes in response to Groans:
There is one simple reason to file this suit. It is to exploit the newly-released color photo, electronic enhancement and all.
Zimmerman suing NBC will be perceived as a David vs. Goliath contest in the public eye and MOM thinks the photo will be received sympathetically – although all it shows is a guy with a nosebleed (which may be self-induced) and most folks have seen nosebleeds in their day, and this is a minor one.
The public will not be impressed.
But that’s all this lawsuit is: an exploitive publicity stunt for Zimmerman and another attempt to influence potential jurors.
I worked as a political columnist and an investigative reporter in the political arena for four years. Won a slug of awards. Not that I was so good – but I had “the goods.” Every document. No guesswork.
The lines are clearly drawn as to what is permitted by journalistic ethics and The First Amendment. While The First protects our right to speak freely, note that the “the press” is given specific protection in it. Without a watchdog press there would no honesty in government.
Zimmerman has become a public figure – albeit, notorious – by his incessant self-publicizing. He does not get the protection a private person is granted. The quote applied to him was Zimmerman’s own words, truncated. He said those words.
Have you noticed that when Zimmerman was asked “Is he White, Black or Hispanic?” by Sean, the 311 dispatcher, Zimmerman did NOT say “I can’t tell. It’s dark and he’s wearing a hoodie,” which would have been the HONEST answer.
Oh no, right a way he had to proclaim “he … looks …. Black” with a hopeful note in his voice. That was the prey he was tracking, and he was doing a little salesmanship on Sean, to IMPRESS on Sean the necessity of dispatching a police officer.
Then, as Trayvon came in view, Zimmerman happily confirmed “And he’s a Black male!”
Zimmerman did everything except shout “Bingo!”
The press (and all media) are held to a higher standard in reports on private citizens because the media is so powerful. The ordinary citizen has no way to “clear” his name if, in fact, he has been wronged, because the ordinary citizen does not have the circulation or extended broadcast area the media have. Thus, “the retraction.”
Generally, when the media consider that reports have not met their “standards & practices” some form of retraction or statement of explanation will be issued, which NBC did. This was a clarification. This was not an admission of guilt. The Constitution protects the press when it makes errors – but it expects the media to correct their errors. That is all that is required by law And, in fact, this was no error – those were Zimmerman’s worrds. They canned the staffers for questionable editing judgment, and frankly, I think they feared “political” pressure. That’s internal, and we don’t have all the facts that went into their personnel decision.
But Zimmerman does not even get any level of protection against “errors” by the media – the media have to INTEND to do harm, if you are a public persona, which Zimmerman is, self-made though he may be. Referring to himself as a “leading citizen” doesn’t help his case – it emphasizes how difficult it would be to characterize himself as a “private citizen.”
He’s not. And if he can’t stand the heat, he and his attorneys should stay out of the press conferences and off the self-promoting websites. He said those words – conjecturing, at first that Trayvon was Black, without actually being able to see what color he was, then emphasizing it triumphantly as he spewed forth his venom against “fucking coons,” who “always get away.”
NBC made none of that up. They edited his words in the interest of time. They used no malice, and there was no deliberate intent to harm.
This is all just a publicity stunt.
Zimmerman has no case.