UC Berkeley's Student Newspaper Editor Sued for Not Retracting Posts

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A man has filed a lawsuit against a student newspaper editor for not unpublishing three stories about his recently deceased son. (Credit: Daily Cal)

A man has filed a lawsuit accusing the head of the newspaper The Daily Californian of “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” the Daily Californian reported.

The man, Harvey Purtz, reportedly had asked the newspaper, The Daily Californian‘s editor-in-chief and president Rajesh Srinivasan to remove an article and two blog posts from their website about his son, former Berkeley football player, Chris Purtz who died in June of last year.  (StinkyJournalism was unable to find how Purtz died. Still Looking)

The Daily Californian is University of California Berkeley’s “independent, student-run newspaper.”

Harvey Purtz first started asking for the posts to be removed in July 2010, labeling the posts “hostile” and painful given his son’s death.  He also claims the story incorrectly reports “his son’s involvement in the incidents depicted in the articles.”

The lawsuit does not include the newspaper, just Srinivasen, the editor-in-chief. Srinivasen was not working at the newspaper when the original stories were first published but “was in high school” EastBayExpress.com noted.

The stories — from 2006 and 2007 — report that Chris Purtz had an “altercation at a San Francisco nightclub” and that as a result he was suspended from the football team.  Chris Purtz later left the team.

  • An Oct. 12, 2006 article reported Chris Purtz was “suspended indefinitely” from the school football team “pending an investigation of reports that he was involved in a physical confrontation and verbal abuse” at the club.
  • According to that Daily Cal story, Chris Purtz was accused of having been intoxicated and having “shoved a worker and used racist and homophobic slurs.” Chris Purtz denied that saying the slurs or trying to “solicit prostitutes” and also “said there was no physical confrontation.”
  • Posts on the Daily Californian blog the Daily Clog from Jan. 17  and Feb. 19, 2007 reported “Chris Purtz’s departure from the football team” following his previous indefinite suspension.  Purtz left the team “for personal reasons.”

UC Hastings College of Law professor David Levine commented on the case:

“There’s an issue about the survivability of defamation cases after the subject is deceased.  In terms of this case, he would have to prove his damages and separate his grief caused by the son’s death from (the grief) caused by the article.”

Srinivasen explained the Daily Cal’s policy regarding the removal of content online in a question-and-answer with College Media Matters.

“We would only remove content from our website if it qualified for a retraction, which is reserved for extreme cases where a story is entirely untruthful and which requires approval from our senior editorial board. A retraction has never occurred in my time at the newspaper, nor have we ever taken down an online article for any other reason.”

See on College Media Matters the full question-and-answer with Srinivasen here.

According to College Media Matters, Srinivasen has to “skip his classes” today “to attend a court hearing 200 miles away” as a result of the suit.

The lawsuit asks for $4,500 for “general damages for severe emotional distress and mental suffering” and $3,000 “as recompense for being made to defend his family’s reputation from alleged defamatory remarks about his son.”

Srinivasan “sought aid from the Student Press Law Center” following the suit’s filings.

SPLC’s attorney advocate Adam Goldstein noted regarding the case:

“(Purtz is) not saying exactly what caused stress, and in this situation it’s hard to say that anything the paper did caused more emotional distress than the death of his son. The first question the judge is going to ask is ‘What is defamatory?'”

See the Daily Cal’s complete post on the suit here.

Libel the Dead

In a blog for Index on Censorship last November, David Paton noted that it’s an “old journalists’ saying” that “you can’t libel the dead.”

As Paton explained, “if the dead could sue, historians and academics would be seriously undermined and less likely to publish critical works on — or even research — historical figures.”
Hat Tip: Romenesko

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UC Berkeley’s Student Newspaper Editor Sued for Not Retracting Posts

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