Mistaken report of gay rights support not libelous
NEW HAMPSHIRE — A state Superior Court judge in Concord threw out a libel suit against The Boston Globe in early October, ruling that the newspaper did not harm a political candidate when it mistakenly reported that she supported a gay rights bill.
Congressional candidate Brenda Elias sued the Globe in Superior Court after the newspaper reported that she was a “strong supporter” of a bill before the state legislature which would have prohibited housing and employment discrimination against homosexuals. The newspaper also reported that Elias had written “a nice note voicing support” to the New Hampshire Coalition to End Discrimination, an organization that supported the measure.
After the article was published, Elias demanded a retraction from the newspaper. The newspaper declined to retract the story.
Superior Court Judge George Manias dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that even if the report was false, “this characterization could not disgrace her.” The court explained that the statements were not defamatory because the article could not reasonably be interpreted as damaging Elias’ reputation.
The court noted that the article did not state or imply that Elias was corrupt or guilty of committing any type of misconduct. The court said the fact that the statement may cause people not to vote for Elias does not in itself make the statement defamatory.
The court also found it significant that the text of the gay rights bill stated that “nothing in this legislation shall be considered as approval or endorsement of any particular belief, behavior, characteristic or condition of any person to whom it may apply.”
The court did not rule whether the article was accurate, because the determination that the article did not harm Elias made such an inquiry unnecessary.
(Elias v. Boston Globe; Media Counsel: Jonathan Albano, Boston)