Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Greg Letieq drops his objection to lawsuits?

As most people who read blogs know, Greg is being sued by Steve Chapman for making false claims. That case has not yet been settled, but Greg has made good effort within the blog community for his side arguing against the concept of using lawsuits to "stifle" speech.

My readers may know that I tend to agree with Greg on this point -- I'm not a fan of using the courts to settle matters that more easily can be settled in the court of public opinion. I've never blasted Steve on his lawsuit, although I did not encourage it, simply because Steve had a more serious matter of an attack against his livelyhood to consider (meaning that while I'm not a fan of suing to get a court to rule on truth, the courts are about the only good avenue we have if someone makes a false attack that actually harms the ability of another person to make a living).

Anyway, I was therefore surprised to see that in today's Manassas Journal-Messenger, Greg Letieq advocated a lawsuit as a proper course of action for false claims made against him, simply for reporting those false claims:

Were I not likely considered a “public figure” under the Supreme Court Case New York Times v. Sullivan, and thus forced to demonstrate “actual malice” in a defamation action against this paper, this outrageous and irresponsible behavior by this paper’s editorial board would have rapidly become the subject of a lawsuit.

I won't pretend to know the law, but I doubt being a private individual would have helped in this case -- the false charges were mostly of fact, but not of a nature to be harmful (another thing that must be proven). I doubt Greg could show harm in claiming he co-authored legislation he supported, for example, since if anything it gives him more credit than he is due. And getting his age wrong is not nearly as "harmful" to him as claiming that someone is lying about graduating from High School.

But in any case, being the strong supporter of the first amendment, and having raised SOME amoung of money for his "legal defense fund" by claiming the "free speech under attack" mantel, it just seemed rather incongruous for Greg to suggest that he would be suing the newspaper for reporting on someone else's press release, if not for Greg's being a "public figure" (which only makes it harder to prove a claim).

I imagine that if Greg cared, he could explain the double-standard. I try to apply principles equally in whatever venue I am in, but most people I find to not. In general, people who live and have made themselves large public figures through the application of a "devil-may-care" attitude toward the truth should probably not try to throw stones when a little of the same comes there way.

I think the MJM should have done some independent journalism before writing about some other group's press release -- there was some valid criticism to be made, but it's lost when there are so many obviously incorrect "facts". But I find it very hard not to laugh, much less to have any sympathy, for Greg, given his history.


Citizen Tom said...

The quote you have taken from Greg's opinion's piece strikes me as altogether too consistent. My guess is Greg wants to make certain everyone to realizes he is a "public figure." In fact, even though the paper gave him "bad publicity," I imagine he was quite pleased with the publicity. Greg would not be the first "public figure" to regard any publicity as good publicity.

I seriously doubt being a "public figure" would be Greg's real problem in taking the paper to court. His real problem would be showing how he was damaged. The paper graciously provided the "public figure" with a forum for his response. Then it added further insult to injury by linking to his website.

James Young said...

Tom strikes upon a serious difficulty for Greg. How could he demonstrate that anyone thinks any less of him, after all?

I was once in a similar situation. During a break in a hearing in San Francisco, a notoriously sleazy union lawyer called me a "terrorist." I, too, considered my legal remedies, but realized that I had no damages, since any hearer of the smear (limited to a few people) would undoubtedly consider the character of the source, and therefore consider it high praise indeed.