Palin’s Defamation Claim and the Sad State of Reporting In America Today

Total Read Time: 3 minutes.

Sarah Palin’s attorney fired of a warning letter today that is being discussed all over the blogosphere. The letter alleges that certain remarks made about Palin by members of the media and, particularly, by an Alaskan blogger, Shannon Moore, are defamatory.

Here’s what Moore said to Davis Shuster on MSNBC last Friday:

"There’s a scandal rumor here that there is a criminal investigation into some activities and that’s been rumored for about, I don’t know, probably six weeks or two months."

It has been reported that the rumor Moore is referring to is that:

". . . Palin steered contracts for the 2003 construction of the Wasilla Sports Complex before leaving office as Wasilla mayor the previous fall, in return for work building her home about the same time."

It appears that Moore’s comments are nothing more than rumor and speculation which are not actionable defamation. However, Moore is walking a very fine and dangerous line; and if I were her attorney, I would tell her to be very, very careful.  I’ll tell you why.

While unconfirmed reports, speculation, and rumors are not interpreted as statements of fact (statements of fact necessary element of defamation) under California law, they may be analogized to opinions, which can be actionable if they imply provably false assertions of fact.

And when you look at the entire video clip, Moore says: "in watching this all play out, I actually think that the rumors, um, seem like there could be something to it."

But I’m not Moore’s attorney and whether or not Palin’s claim is actionable isn’t the most important part of this story.

What troubles me is the sorry state of journalism today as exemplified in the video above.

It totally baffles me that David Shuster would characterize Moore’s statements as, "intriguing and terrific reporting," when it is clear that it is the antithesis of good, solid, journalism.

How was it terrific?

When did it become OK to report unconfirmed stories? When did it become OK to give credence to nothing more than gossip?

While I am a staunch defender of the First Amendment, some people need to stop and think a minute before they make comments like the ones made above.

It does no one any good to spread gossip disguised as journalism.






  1. says

    If a reporter accurately states that there is a rumor going around, and clearly states that it is only a rumor, and as far as the reporter knows, there is no factual basis to it, it seems to me that would not be actionable. Whether there is value in reporting the existence of a rumor is another question. Such reporting sometimes merely helps spread a rumor, instead of questioning it. I agree with you that it would be more responsible journalism to do a little checking around to see if there is any factual basis to the rumor, like in this case you might want to ask somebody at the Justice Department if there is an ongoing investigation.
    Where this reporter arguably goes over the line is saying that um, there could be something to it. The reporter should identify her basis for making a statement like that. Does the reporter know something about a potential criminal investigation? Or is the reporter just suspicious about the circumstances of the construction of Palin’s house at the same time as the infamous skating rink? If so, she should state why she thinks there might be something to this rumor. As usual, the tv reporter interviewing her does not go deep enough in trying to probe the basis of her statements.

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