|News Media Update||VIRGINIA||Libel|
Former Army scientist sues over anthrax stories
- Steven Hatfill, who was identified by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof as a likely culprit in the 2001 anthrax attacks, sued the newspaper and the columnist for libel.
July 15, 2004 — Former Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against The New York Times and one of the paper’s columnists for accusing him of involvement in the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and injured 17.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va., claims that columnist Nicholas Kristof identified Hatfill in a series of columns in 2002 as a likely culprit in the attacks. Anthrax-tainted letters were sent to government and media offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Washington, D.C., and Nevada.
Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, penned several criticisms of the FBI for failing to pursue Hatfill, whom he initially identified as “Dr. Z.”
A former researcher at an Army infectious disease research laboratory, Hatfill states in his complaint that Kristof knowingly and recklessly wrote false and defamatory information about him in an effort to “light a fire” under the FBI to pursue the case more aggressively. He also alleges that Kristof engaged in “palpably substandard and unethical journalism” by failing to contact him for input.
Kristof did note in one column that Hatfill deserved a “presumption of innocence” and that “there is not a shred of traditional physical evidence linking him to the attacks,” according to an article in The Washington Post yesterday.
“Mr. Kristof was careful to note that Dr. Hatfill was presumed to be innocent and that the FBI owed it to him to clear his name if they had no evidence,” the Times said in a statement. “We believe in a case like this, the law protects fair commentary on an important issue.”
In August 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft identified Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the federal investigation. Hatfill brought a harassment suit against Ashcroft and the U.S. government in 2003, alleging that he was the victim of a smear campaign.
To date, no one has been charged in connection to the attacks.
(Hatfill v. New York Times Co.) — KM
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press