Libel

This section covers the state law governing libel suits. The standards governing such suits are influenced by many things, including whether the subject of a story is a public figure or public official. This also covers the defenses to libel suits, including the "fair report" privilege, the opinion defense and anti-SLAPP laws.

Virginia court rules that Yelp must name seven anonymous reviewers

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | January 7, 2014
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January 7, 2014

The Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled today that Yelp must reveal the identity of seven pseudonymous reviewers so that a company may sue them for defamation.

Hadeed Carpet Cleaning received numerous negative reviews on Yelp, and it singled out seven reviewers that it suspects were never actually customers. The company brought a defamation claim against them, subpoenaing Yelp for their identities. Yelp refused to disclose their identities.

Attorneys for Yelp argued that the Virginia court should adopt what is known as the Dendrite standard, followed in several other states, which requires those claiming defamation to provide sufficient evidence to support that claim before the court will force anonymous speakers to reveal their identities.

Getting "dirty" online jeopardizes immunity

Federal court ruling in TheDirty defamation claim could expose website operators to greater liability
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Cindy Gierhart

TheDirty.com — a gossip website that allows users to post photos, anecdotes and rumors about everyday people or celebrities — was sued for defamation by former Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones regarding statements that website users made about her.

A recent federal court decision has sent a warning to website owners who get too involved in the comments readers post to their sites.

A federal district court in Kentucky ruled in August that the owner of the website TheDirty.com cannot claim immunity under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because he “invite[d] invidious postings” and added his own comments to third-party posts.

Federal court upholds Esquire's 'birther' article as protected political satire

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | November 26, 2013
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November 26, 2013

A federal appellate court in the District of Columbia on Tuesday found that the author of a “birther” book could not claim defamation against Esquire magazine for what the court said was “fully protected political satire.”

The Esquire article, written in jest, claimed author Jerome Corsi and publisher Joseph Farah were pulling the book from the shelves after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate.

“[I]t is the nature of satire that not everyone ‘gets it’ immediately . . . ,” the court wrote. “Indeed, satire is effective as social commentary precisely because it is often grounded in truth.”

Mann v. National Review

November 13, 2013

The Reporters Committee and 19 other news organizations filed an amicus brief with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals urging it to accept jurisdiction to hear an immediate appeal of the denial of a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute.

Doe v. Burke

October 22, 2013

The Reporters Committee and seven other organizations filed an amicus brief with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals urging it to reverse an order of the D.C. Superior Court denying a Wikipedia editor's special motion to quash under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute.

Esquire defends satire against "birther" authors in federal court

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | October 3, 2013
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October 3, 2013

Esquire magazine argued before a federal court in Washington, D.C., this morning that its May 2011 commentary about a “birther” book was satire and therefore protected speech under the First Amendment.

D.C. District Court applies local anti-SLAPP statute, dismisses defamation claim against Foreign Policy

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | October 1, 2013
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October 1, 2013

A federal judge dismissed a defamation claim by the Palestinian Authority leader’s son against a Washington, D.C.-based magazine and applied the district's anti-SLAPP statute in federal court.

Appeals court upholds dismissal of defamation suit against Spitzer, Slate

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | September 20, 2013
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September 20, 2013

In upholding the dismissal of a defamation claim against Eliot Spitzer and Slate on Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) ruled that a broad reference to an organization or “[a company] and its employees” does not give an individual in that company a right to sue for defamation.

Experts share prepublication tips to avoid lawsuits

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Here are some tips for reporters who don’t have access to legal experts for a prepublication review process.

Erik Wemple, blogger for The Washington Post:

A closer look at the "Bag Men" defamation lawsuit

In the claim against the controversial New York Post, false implication will be hard to prove
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