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High court finds news reports, ex-Beatle's comments not libelous

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High court finds news reports, ex-Beatle's comments not libelous 07/27/98 HAWAII--In early July the state Supreme Court in Honolulu upheld…

High court finds news reports, ex-Beatle’s comments not libelous

07/27/98

HAWAII–In early July the state Supreme Court in Honolulu upheld the dismissal of a libel suit filed against ex-Beatle George Harrison, a newspaper and a reporter by two men who claimed they had been defamed by remarks made by Harrison at a press conference and repeated in the newspaper.

In July 1993 The Honolulu Advertiser printed an article by reporter Edwin Tanji about a court decision granting some of Harrison’s neighbors access to parts of his property in Nahiku. The article, entitled “Ex-Beatle says of trial on Maui: Don’t rob my privacy, no, no, no,” quoted Harrison as saying: “Have you ever been raped? I’m being raped by all these people. . . . My privacy is being violated. The whole issue is my privacy.”

The state Supreme Court upheld the dismissal by a lower court. Noting that the statements were rhetorical hyperbole, Justice Paula Nakayama wrote, “Even the most casual reader would understand that ‘these people’ — whether neighbors of Harrison or persistent journalists — were not actually raping Harrison.”

Two of Harrison’s neighbors, Steven Gold and Scott Whitney, sued Harrison, The Advertiser and Tanji in a state circuit court in Wailuku in July 1995. Although neither Gold or Whitney were mentioned by name in the story, they claimed that Harrison had damaged their reputations by calling them rapists. They also claimed that the newspaper and its reporter had distorted Harrison’s words, making it appear that the musician’s comments referred to his neighbors when he had in fact directed his criticism at members of the news media who were covering the trial.

The trial court dismissed the neighbors’ lawsuit, finding that Harrison’s words were rhetorical hyperbole rather than a false, defamatory allegation of fact.

The Supreme Court also upheld the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees and court costs of more than $12,500 to Harrison. (Gold v. Harrison; Media Counsel: Jeffrey Portnoy, Honolulu)