Throughout the year, iMediaEthics has reported on numerous libel lawsuits and claims. The following is a round-up of ten noteworthy and important libel lawsuits and cases from 2017.
10. Edits in Documentary aren’t Libelous
Last year, a Virginia gun rights group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, sued Katie Couric and others over a documentary called Under the Gun, which included a misleading edit. The edit inserted a pause after Couric asked a question about gun control instead of playing responses from the group, suggesting the group didn’t know how to respond. Couric apologized for the edit, and the group’s libel lawsuit was dismissed in late May. “The plaintiffs’ defamation claims fail because the interview scene is not false,” U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. argued. “Under the Gun portrays members of the VCDL not answering the question posed by Couric. In reality, members of the VCDL did not answer the question posed by Couric. They talked about background checks and gun laws generally, but did not answer the question of how to prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing guns without background checks. The editing simply dramatizes the sophistry of the VCDL members.”
9. BBC pays over Salman Rushdie claims
The BBC claimed that Muslim leader Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin called for Salman Rushdie to be lynched. But, while Mueen-Uddin did lead protests against The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s 1989 novel, he didn’t call for his lynching. The BBC had to pay “substantial libel damages” and issue an apology to Mueen-Uddin in February.
8. Katie Hopkins-related libel payouts
In November, the Mail Online paid a British schoolteacher for controversial columnist Katie Hopkins’ false claim in a Mail Online article that she took her class of 12-year-olds to a Donald Trump protest. Just before the payout and apology to the teacher was revealed, the Mail Online ended its contract with Hopkins. In March, food writer Jack Monroe won a libel lawsuit against Hopkins over Hopkins’ tweets claiming Monroe vandalized a UK war memorial.
7. Pink Slime
In 2012, Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News for defamation over the network’s reporting on its “lean finely texted beef,” which had been called “pink slime.” This summer, ABC News settled the $1.9 billion lawsuit, maintaining its reporting was accurate. While the lawsuit was settled confidentially, CNN reported in August that Disney paid at least $177 million in settling.
6. Libel by depiction?
The Australian Daily Telegraph depicted Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, Grand Mufti and head of Sunni Muslims in Australia, as a monkey, calling him “The Unwise Mufti” on its front page. The newspaper claimed Dr. Mohamed has ignored terrorism and, specifically, the 2015 terror attacks in Paris. The Grand Mufti sued over the coverage, and this spring, the Grand Mufti won his case.
5. Calling someone transgender isn’t defamatory
Longtime fitness guru Richard Simmons sued National Enquirer and Radar Online for reporting he was transitioning to become a woman. Simmons said the articles were defamatory and an invasion of privacy. But, a California court ruled it isn’t defamatory to say someone is transgender. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Keosian ruled that “While, as a practical matter, the characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them.” Read more.
4. Netanyahu Wins over Facebook Post
An Israeli reporter posted on Facebook that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife kicked the prime minister out of a car after a fight. The Netanyahus took the journalist, Igal Sarna, to court. While Sarna defended his post as based on anonymous sources and in good faith, because he didn’t contact the Netanyahus before publishing his Facebook post, he lost the case. Sarna was fined 115,000 shekels (about $32,000). Read more.
3. Melania Trump and Escort Libel
Melania Trump, wife of Pres. Donald Trump, battled allegations that she once worked as an escort. Trump sued the Daily Mail, a Maryland blogger, and a Slovenian magazine for libel. Trump settled all of the cases, receiving about $3 million from the Mail alone. Trump filed lawsuits against the Mail and the blogger, Webster Tarpley, last year. Trump settled with Tarpley in February, the Mail in April, and with Slovenian magazine Suzy in December.
2. Rebel Wilson wins largest Australian libel payout
Australian media organization Bauer Media published news stories alleging that Australian actress Rebel Wilson lied about her age, her name and her background. Because of the stories and implication that she was a liar, Wilson said she lost work Wilson took Bauer Media to court and won the largest libel settlement ever in Australian history — $4.5 million Australian (about $3.6 million U.S.). Read more.
1. Rolling Stone and “A Rape on Campus.”
It has been three years since Rolling Stone published the faulty story “A Rape on Campus” alleging a student using the name “Jackie” was gang-raped by members of the University of Phi Kappa Psi. Despite the time that has lapsed, the fallout continues. In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court’s dismissal of three alumni members of Phi Kappa Psi’s lawsuit against the magazine, sending the case back to court. In June, Rolling Stone reached a settlement with the fraternity chapter at University of Virginia, agreeing to pay about $1.65 million. And in April, Rolling Stone settled University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo’s libel lawsuit against the magazine.