Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

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Friday, July 8, 2005

Federal Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of Defamation Claim Against Chicago Sun-Times

Plaintiff Karla Knafel objected to the following words that Chicago Sun-Times reporter Richard Roeper wrote about her and her relationship with Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan: "...[t]here are some women who see a famous horny guy, blink their eyes and hear the ka-ching of a cash register. Women like Karla Knafel....Knafel was once an aspiring singer. She's now reportedly a hair designer. But, based on the money she's been paid already and the additional funds she's seeking in exchange for her affair with Jordan, she's making herself sound like someone who once worked in a profession that's a lot older than singing or hair designing." Knafel claimed that the words complained of were suspetible of only one construction. On that basis she sued for defamation. The Sun-Times and Sun-Times Online moved to dismiss and the lower court granted the motion. The appellate court heard the case de novo. It first established the relevant Illinois law: "...a statement which falls into a category supporting a claim for defamation per se will not be found to be defamatory if it `reasonably capable of an innocent construction.'" Next it considered Knafel's claim that the dismissal was improper because "the innocent construction rule cannot be applied on a motion to dismiss in federal court" and that the lower court judge "looked to matters outside the pleadings in making her decision, thus converting the motion to a motion for summary judgment without giving notice and allowing Knafel time to engage in discovery."

The court considered that there was an innocent interpretation of Roeper's words other than he intended to accuse Knapel of prostitution. "We see two significant concepts in this passage [the passage quoted above]. Roeper says Knafel was having an "affair" with Jordan. It is reasonable to interpret that word to imply a longer term relationship than is contemplated in the Illinois definiation of prostitution. Secondly, as we said, despite the reluctance of counsel for the SUn-Times to concede the obvious at oral argument, Roeper almost certainly refers to prostitution when he talks about an "older" profession. But it is reasonable to read the passage as saying that although Knafel was having an affair (i.e., a longer term relationship) with Jordan, by demanding so much money from him she is demeaning herself. Roeper does not say Knafel has committed the crime of prostitution but, rather, she is making herself sound like she has. The words "sound like" imply similarity, but not identity. In short, Roeper is hard on Knafel as revealed by the headline of the column: "Is Karla Knafel's affection really worth "5 million?" But his words are reasonably (and easily) subject to an innocent construction; i.e., one that stops short of saying she committed a crime."

With regard to the lower judge's use of use of matters outside the pleadings, the appellate court dismissed this objection. "Knafel's support for her contention...is Judge St. Eve's use of the phrases "non-disclosure agreement" and "non-disclosure contract" to describe the agreement between Knafel and Jordan; the argument seems to be that the Cook County judge used the phrases; therefore, because Judge St. Eve also used the phrases, she must have considered the Cook County decision--a matter outside the pleading--in her evaluation of this case. The argument is an air ball. A nondisclosure agreement is what was involved between Knafel and Jordan. How else was the district judge to refer to it? We're quite sure the judge could have come up with the language all by herself."

Read the opinion here.

July 8, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

Reality Show Writers Sue Hollywood Producers

Finally admitting what we've all known for quite a while, those who work behind the scenes at reality tv shows are coming out of the shadows, saying that they actually do script what is going on in series such as  The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Real Gilligan's Island, and other "spontaneous" television fare. Further they are suing various networks and production companies including CBS, ABC, WB, Next Entertainment, and TBS, alleging that producers routinely violate labor laws in an effort to get work out of the writers without adequate breaks or meals, and forcing them to submit inaccurate time cards. The Writers' Guild of America is helping the plaintiffs in their suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday.  See an AP story here.

The writers' legal salvo is only the latest in a series of proceedings assailing the growing reality tv industry. In early June, a New Jersey judge certified a class action lawsuit over the 2001 documentary Trauma: Life in the ER. See a story here.  ABC's Welcome to the Neighborhood, a reality series proposed for the summer, was a lawsuit waiting to happen until it was pulled from the network's schedule. The creators of Wife Swap (UK) and Fox's Trading Spouses squabbled over who infringed whom (see a write-up on the ruling here at Eric Goldman's blog).

And abroad, the French reality show, La Ferme Célébrités, based on the U.K./U.S. show, The Farm, was sued over the death of animals used on its show. See coverage in the Guardian here.

See more about reaction about ABC's Welcome to the Neighborhood here.

July 8, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Blair Government Already Moving to Regulate Advertising of Olympics

Although the International Olympic Committee only announced London as the site for the 2012 Summer Games yesterday, Tony Blair's government is already acting to regulate commercial advertising of the Games. A bill due to be introduced shortly will ban advertising unless officially recognized sponsors originate it. See coverage here. Paul Kelso's May 18, 2005 article further analyzes the bill here.

Discussion (and opposition to) this bill began a few weeks ago, when it became increasingly clear that London had a fair chance, under Lord Coe's leadership, to take the games. See some pointed commentary from the "Mayor of London blog" (not associated with the government) here.

July 7, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Judge Sends Miller to Jail

U. S. District Judge Thomas Hogan has ordered New York Times reporter Judith Miller to jail today for refusing to reveal her source in the Valerie Plame leak case. However, Time reporter Matthew Cooper has now agreed to testify, because his source has released him from their agreement. Read an MSNBC.com breaking story here.

July 6, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Fitzgerald Still Wants Cooper/Miller Testimony, Hearing Set for Today

Patrick Fitzgerald, the U. S. Attorney seeking testimony from Time reporter Matthew Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the investigation of the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name, continues to demand that U. S. District Judge Thomas Hogan order both journalists answer questions or report to jail for up to 120 days, even though Time magazine has opted to turn over materials requested by the government. Hogan will hear arguments today for and against the journalists' remaining options, including home confinements. Read an article from the Chicago Tribune here. Even though Time has relinquished Cooper's notes, Fitzgerald still maintains that he needs Cooper's testimony. He further says that he needs Miller's testimony, although she never published any articles on the Plame matter, and although he says he knows the identity of her source, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (see here.)

Still unexplained is whether columnist Robert Novak, who did publish Valerie Plame's name, has been subpoenaed, has testified, or will testify. He says he will explain "...when the case is closed." See here.

More coverage for your perusal here:

Tom Brune, Newsday.com

Adam Liptak, New York Times (picked up in the International Herald Tribune)

Gary Younge, Media Guardian (article dated July 1, 2005)

The AP report is also being carried by the Canadian paper The Globe and Mail.

July 6, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Lawyer Files Pre-Trial Motion in "Alphadog" Case

James Blatt, the attorney for James James Hollywood, the man accused of murdering Nick Markowitz, says the upcoming release of the Bruce Willis/Justin Timberlake vehicle "Alpha Dog" is making it difficult for his client to get a fair trial in Santa Barbara. The AP reports that Blatt has asked presiding judge Brian Hill to instruct opposing counsel not to release any more information about the high profile case, which forms the basis for the movie. The picture, directed by Nick Cassavetes, was originally titled "Jesse James Hollywood" underwent a title change; its main character, played by Emile Hirsch, is now called "Johnny Truelove". It also stars Sharon Stone, and is due to hit theaters later this year, possibly at the same time as the trial. Blatt indicated that various parties associated with the proceeding had participated in the making of the movie, including his client's father, Jack.

Hollywood has also been the subject of an "Unsolved Mysteries" segment (see here) and a feature in  Los Angeles Magazine (see here) as far back as 2002. Stories about him, both feature articles and "wanted" stories multiplied on the Internet. See here and here. In March 2005 Hollywood was spotted in a Brazilian shopping mall and captured; he was returned to the US where he now faces trial for the Markovitz murder.

Read more about Hollywood's capture here and trial here and here.

July 5, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

BBC Guidelines Available

The BBC's Editorial Guidelines are available on its website here.

July 5, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)