Whistling past the libel graveyard.

A mostly political Weblog.
July 17 2004 1:49 PM

No Caterpillar, No Cocoon?

Plus--Whistling past the libel graveyard.

John Edwards, opiate of the Dems: Rare Rasmussen bounce (for Kerry)  nearly all gone. ... But the Edwards pick may have had one more durable effect--ending, or at least postponing, widespread Dem pessimism, a.k.a. Panic. The percentage of Democrats who now think Kerry will win is way up. ... Is Edwards like a narcotic--calming the Dems during the convention period, only to have them wake up later, when it's too late, to the grim pain of the unappealing personality who heads the ticket? Just a thought! ... P.S.: Alert reader Bob S. notes that while everyone was focused on Edwards' bounciness, the Republicans made a giant gain in  Rasmussen's generic Congressional preference poll, completely wiping out in one week what had been a nine-point Democratic advantage. Maybe the debate on the constitutional anti-gay-marriage amendment wasn't such a political loser for the GOPs after all. ... 11:15 A.M.

Guess It Really Was A Nagourney Problem: Richard Stevenson appears instead of Adam "Caterpillar" Nagourney in the NYT writing credits for the latest Times/CBS Poll. Have Nagourney's superiors realized how awful his last effort was? ... Whatever the reason for his absence, it's not the same without him. There's no cocooning pro-Democratic spin! Just a sensible account of a poll with some good news and not-so-good news for the Dems. Even the headline ("No Poll Boost From Edwards") is unspun--at least not in a pro-Dem direction. This can't go on. ...It didn't. The Web headline has now been changed to "Public Likes Edwards, But Race is Still Close." The hed in the print edition is the even more morale-boosting "Public Warms to Edwards; Race Still Close." Shift change at the copy desk? Or orders from Moscow? You make the call. ...  2:13 A.M.

Friday,  July 16, 2004

The Wall Street Journal quotes amedia lawyer, Jack M. Weiss, saying that Dr. Steven Hatfill, who is suing New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, will

have a "hard time" proving that the columns said or even implied that Mr. Hatfill was guilty [in the 2001 anthrax attacks].

Weiss must not have been reading the same Kristof columns I read. ... Weiss also says Hatfill has to show

the Times published the columns knowing or suspecting that they falsely accused him of being guilty.

Maybe there's been some new development in libel law* [see Update], but doesn't Hatfill only have to show that the Times acted with "reckless disregard" for the truth or falsity of the charge? ... I think the Journal--and Editor & Publisher--are helping the Times whistle past the graveyard on this one. ... P.S.: Is Hatfill even a "public figure," the trigger for these more permissive libel rules?

*Update: Jack M. Weiss emails to say I am indeed wrong about current libel law:

Although the literal formulation of the actual malice standard encompasses either knowing falsity or "reckless disregard" of the truth, the Supreme Court, and numerous other federal and state courts, over the course of nearly forty years repeatedly have interpreted "reckless disregard" to require that plaintiff show, by clear and convincing evidence, that "the defendant in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication." St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 730 (1968). This is a subjective standard, not an objective standard of "recklessness" or gross negligence, as might be suggested by a quick reading of the term "reckless disregard", and by your published comment. Contrary to your comment, I am therefore entirely correct in stating that, if Hatfill is a public figure, he will have to show--by clear and convincing evidence, no less-- that the Times and/or Mr. Kristof published knowing of or "suspecting" (my shorthand for "in fact entertaining serious doubts as to") the falsity of what Mr. Kristof wrote.

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