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Monday, December 11, 2006
WND Still Schizophrenic About Libel Lawsuit
Topic: WorldNetDaily

WorldNetDaily is still schizophrenic about the libel lawsuit filed against it by Tennessee businessman Clark Jones.

A Dec. 8 article by Bob Unruh details its main claim that WND should not be held liable for the articles:

That appellate order then was followed by the appellate court statement that the reporters "were freelance reporters engaged by the Defendant, Inc. [WND] to write a series of articles about the Plaintiff's alleged activities which were published, with extensive notoriety, by WND, and were prima facie defamatory."

But there has been no trial, no jury, and no conclusions that the reporters actually had been "engaged," that the stories were "published," "with extensive notoriety" and were "prima facie defamatory." The appellate court opinion simply stated those disputed issues as fact, the court filing said.


"In spite of the statement of the court of appeals … the record on appeal presents evidence all of which is of one accord and indisputable in establishing that WND did not 'engage' appellants to write the articles that are the subject of the instant case. Instead, appellants did the investigation and wrote the articles, without WND even having knowledge that the articles were being written or the investigation being done, and, after the articles were finished, the appellants contacted WND and asked WND to post the articles on WND's website for dissemination," the statement said.

So WND is still claiming that it's innocent because it didn't commission the articles but merely reprinted them.

But then, Unruh writes:

WND's rights would be similar, "if not exactly the same," as a news publisher, it said.

"Literally, myriad cases could be cited from this Court, from courts of other states and from the federal forum, including the United States Supreme Court, to establish how very fundamental and very vital, to our existence as a Nation, extraordinary protection of the First Amendment rights of the press is," the filing said.

So, which is it? Is WND standing by the articles, or is it trying to disassociate itself from them? Logic would seem to dictate that it can't do both.

Unruh also adds:

WND argued that if the only news that is reportable is from an identified source, the First Amendment rights of every U.S. citizen will be damaged.

"The inability to claim that the information from the source whose identity remains confidential is truth, … dictates that the reporter and/or the third-party website provider must defend the defamation claims in the face of an irrefutable presumption that the reported and/or website-posted information is false," WND said.

If the court orders controlling in the WND case now had been in place during Watergate, not even the Washington Post could have assumed the risk of publishing anything from Deep Throat, the petition said.

Quick, somebody alert Robin Boyd

(UPDATE: We forgot to note that this contradicts Farah's previous view of anonymous sources: "usually quotes made up out of whole cloth to help make the story read better.") 

But back to schizophrenia: A Dec. 9 article by Unruh notes that "alarmingly, the number of Internet-based journalists in prison for their work has doubled in just three years." Unruh then goes on to quote Joseph Farah:

"It's not WorldNetDaily on trial in Tennessee, it's the First Amendment," said Farah. "Where in heaven's name have the American Civil Liberties Union and the big media been for the last six years as our little company carries the full load of responsibility for defending something as basic to our country's founding principles as freedom of the press?"

Farah continued: "Not only is this a huge defamation case in terms of possible judgments, it is also huge because it involves critical reporting about the 2000 presidential election. Politically protected speech and reporting doesn't get much more basic than that."

Wait -- we thought WND was insisting that it was responsible for the content of those articles. We're confused. Pick one of the other, guys.

A side note: Both articles appeal for donations to WND's legal defense fund, claiming, "WorldNetDaily’s only recourse in this lawsuit is to fight every step of the way in its pursuit of truth." But Unruh lets a little truth slip through in the Dec. 8 article, explaining a bit why after so many years, WND is suddenly obsessed by it:

The order at issue concluded that an appeal by [reporters Tony] Hays and [Charles C.] Thompson should be dismissed, "together with the appeals of WND and (defendant Rebecca) Hagelin" [then WND's communications director] with costs assessed to those parties.

The problem there is that WND and Hagelin didn't file an appeal, the new court filing said.

Oops! Unruh offers no explanation as to why no appeal was filed or if one should have been, which seems to belie its claim to "fight every step of the way." As we've noted, WND went 3 1/2 years -- from December 2002 to July 2006 -- without publishing a news article about it. Could that lack of response to the lawsuit be the reason that WND has ignored our challenge to publish all legal documents from it on the Web?

And, by the way, despite the loving detail Unruh gives WND's side of the story, in neither of these articles does he talk to Jones or his representatives to give them a fair representation; his description of the other side is limited to quotes from the lawsuit and rulings.

Posted by Terry K. at 12:19 AM EST
Updated: Monday, December 11, 2006 9:09 AM EST

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