Appeals court upholds order forcing tabloid to reveal confidential sources
CALIFORNIA — In mid-October the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) upheld a district court order requiring the Star tabloid to disclose its confidential sources for an article that prompted a libel suit by comedian Rodney Dangerfield.
The Star’s article, published in 1990, concerned a contract dispute between Dangerfield and Caesar’s Palace Hotel. The article was titled “Vegas casino accuses Caddyshack funnyman: Rodney Dangerfield ‘Swills Vodka By The Tumblerful, Smokes Pot All Day And Uses Cocaine.'”
The Star derived part of its report from documents in a suit between Dangerfield and the casino. That information, Dangerfield conceded, was privileged under the judicial proceedings privilege of libel law.
The Star’s article also included the tabloid’s own reporting of statements from unnamed casino employees. They described drunken conduct by Dangerfield, who allegedly trashed his hotel room, broke a shower, stood in his flooded room with two naked girls, and chased a woman around with ice tongs and said he wanted to rip her clothes off.
During discovery, the district court in Los Angeles ordered the Star to disclose to Dangerfield the identity of the confidential sources.
The appeals court gave several reasons for upholding the order. The court noted that this was a libel suit to which the Star was a party, and that the information sought by Dangerfield was essential to his claim that the Star knew its story was false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
The appeals court also said that Dangerfield had exhausted the alternative sources for the information he needed. The court added that the Star’s confidential sources would be protected because disclosure would be limited to counsel. Finally, the court found that Dangerfield had showed falsity, because the Star had admitted that the ice tong incident never happened.
(Star Editorial, Inc. v. United States District Court; Media Counsel: Gary M. Grossenbacher, Los Angeles; Slade R. Metcalf, New York)