After four decades of apologizing about his former confidential source Marcy, retired Columbia Journalism School professor Bruce Porter is being sued for three causes of action, libel, slander and violation of her privacy.
Columbia Journalism Review is also named in the lawsuit.
Maxim H. Waldbaum, a partner at New York City law firm Eaton & Van Winkle filed a complaint today in The U.S. District Court of The Southern District of New York for his client, Marcy, against Porter, the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review and Porter’s filmmaker colleague, Daniel Loewenthal. The complaint says the three defendants “collaborated to defame Plaintiff and invade her privacy on numerous occasions causing her harm and damage to her reputation.”
“This is a wrong that has to be righted and we’re here to do it,” Marcy’s lawyer Waldbaum said to iMediaEthics by phone. He continued: “The arrogance of people in power sometimes has to be reasoned with and the courts are the only way to do it.”
The complaint chronicles more than 40 years, starting with Porter’s time as a cub reporter at Newsweek where his big break was interviewing Marcy in 1967 for the sensational cover story “Trouble in Hippieland.” Porter broke his promise to keep her anonymous and names her small hometown, while describing her as a 17-year-old runaway (she wasn’t; at 19, she was an adult) who was having casual sex resulting in a $200 backroom abortion and taking hard drugs (all of which Marcy denies).
According to the complaint, Porter, while repeating the false claims about Marcy to legions of college students he taught over many years, used his own bad behavior as a case study. He apologized for acting unethically, but not to Marcy’s face. That all changed in 2011, when he decided with his filmmaker friend, Loewenthal, to seek her out in her hometown in order to make a documentary about apologizing to her, by again repeating in her local newspaper, The Flint Journal, all the scandalous information from the original Newsweek’s front-page story.
Among the accusations in the complaint is that Columbia Journalism Review, without ever fact checking or seeking comment before publication, ran a Nov.1, 2012 story by Porter on the documentary about his efforts to apologize to Marcy that was filled with new personal details and errors that were still never corrected from 1967.
“At no time prior to the publication of the First CJR Article did CJR fact checkers reach out to Plaintiff to verify information,” the complaint states, ”or give the Plaintiff her opportunity to respond before publication.”
The complaint accuses Porter, who acted both as a “former professor of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism” and “special advisor to the Dean,” of “tracking Plaintiff down to her childhood home, where she continues to reside, Porter and Loewenthal pressured her to give a further interview and sign releases for Loewenthal’s video footage.”
So far, Marcy told iMediaEthics, which called her for comment, “I’ve retained counsel and if anyone has comments or questions they can call my counsel, not me.”
Porter declined to comment to iMediaEthics about the lawsuit. Charles Sims, Proskauer Rose LLP, attorney for Columbia Journalism Review, also declined to comment. iMediaEthics emailed Loewenthal on Nov 2 after not getting a response to phone messages left on Oct 31 before publication and Nov 1.
iMediaEthics called Elizabeth Weinreb Fishman, Associate Dean for Communications, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, also before publication after not reaching anyone by phone at CJR. She told me to say Columbia Journalism Review and the Columbia Journalism School had “no one available for comment” until she could check what the university wanted to do. iMediaEthics received an email from Fishman, Nov 1, 3p.m : “I have conferred with the central Columbia Communications office. We are not able to comment, as you might understand is the university practice with most legal matters.”
We will update the story if we get additional responses. A PDF of the complaint is found here iMediaEthics redacted Marcy’s identifying information.
UPDATE: 10/31/2013 4:35 PM EST: Added in comments from Waldbaum
UPDATE: 11/1/2013 3:31PM EST : Added response from Elizabeth Weinreb Fishman, Columbia University, Associate Dean for Communications, Graduate School of Journalism.
UPDATE: 11/2/2013 6:05AM EST : Added updated information about iMediaEthics’ continued attempts to contact Loewenthal