Funny thing, slander and libel, especially in the age of Blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. The concept seems so . . . well, Victorian. Nowadays, who has a “reputation?” All it takes is a few anonymous key-strokes and anybody, for any reason, can be publicly trashed. But here’s the odd thing: Nowadays, who believes anything they read anywhere anymore? Kinda hard to be “slandered, defamed and libeled” if nobody believes a word of it. Or they believe every word but never bother to find out whether it’s true or not, so “facts” and “false facts” just become meaningless gossip, subject to change at any moment.
Hard to maintain a “reputation” of any kind in such a downpour of swirling blither.
And funny thing about suing somebody for libel is that news of the lawsuit will spread the libel even farther than the original libel, so you’re likely to face the ridiculous possibility that you should maybe sue yourself for making sure that libel got the widest possible coverage. So, either way, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Case in point, yesterday’s Tribune carried the headline “A.G. man accuses news site of libel.” According to the story, “Charles Tenborg, CEO and president of Eco Solutions, a hazardous waste management service in Arroyo Grande” filed a lawsuit against “CalCoast News and reporters Karen Velie and Daniel Blackburn” for publishing a story that claimed that “Tenborg’s company illegally transported hazardous waste for San Luis Obispo County’s Integrated Waste Management Authority.”
See the problem there? I’ll bet none of you reading this ever heard of Charles Tenborg or Eco Solutions. Likely you’re not even familiar with CalCoastNews. And I’m also betting you missed the original story all together. So, there’s the problem: If a “libel” falls in a forest of “news” and nobody sees it, is it still “libel?”
Ah, but file a lawsuit, especially in a small town, and it gets picked up by the one newspaper of record, well it’s sure to be splashed far further than the original story ever went. Toss in the fact that CalCoast News regularly makes headlines by their muckraking and pot-stirring, and you’re sure to spread whatever “libel” you think you’re dealing with all over the place.
So there you are. You feel your reputation was dinged in a news report likely read by nobody and now, thanks to your lawsuit, your dinged reputation is now splattered all over the newspaper in big headlines and now everyone and their uncle is aware of your previously quasi-dinged reputation and they’re now blinking their eyes and saying, “Gosh, I didn’t know Mr. So & So was a crook.”
Meanwhile, your bet noir, CalCoastNews now gets another bite at the apple to refresh and repeat the whole story and add their two cents defending their actions and so the whole thing gets rehashed again.
Hopeless. It’s a no-win deal. The lawsuit story will now stick in a whole lot of people’s minds even before you have to go to court and face impossible odds of actually proving “malice” and “willful” intent from your accusers. Or if the news agency agrees to publish a retraction or modification of the original story, or maybe you even win your lawsuit, it’s a good bet that story will appear on page B6 buried under an ad for underwear.
So there you are. Win, lose or draw, your efforts to right a perceived wrong just made a bigger mess.
On the other hand, if a news agency is running amok and falsely accusing folks of illegalities, (the Tribune notes that “this is the second defamation lawsuit in two months that has involved CalCoastNews”) then somebody needs to put a stop to it.
But at what price for all the players? Except for the lawyers, who get paid regardless.