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The Sky is Definitely Not Falling

A couple of people have emailed to ask me my opinion of this story:

Crystal Cox, Oregon Blogger, Isn’t a Journalist, Concludes U.S. Court–Imposes $2.5 Million Judgement on Her

That’s the headline from the Seattle Weekly blog. And while the two parts are true (ignoring the woeful parallelism), it implies a causal connection that does not exist.

The $2.5 million was a judgment for Cox’s defamation of a guy named Kevin Padrick.

A non-journalist like Cox is not allowed to defame a person. But—and this is crucial to an understanding of this case—a journalist is also not allowed to defame a person.

Oregon’s journalist-shield law, under which the judge found that Cox was not a journalist, does not shield journalists from liability. It shields journalists from having to reveal their sources. I understand that it also requires a plaintiff to demand a retraction before filing suit.

If Cox had been a journalist, she would not have been required to reveal her “source.” But she wasn’t forced to reveal any source.

If Cox had been a journalist and she hadn’t revealed her source, she would not have been able to prove that the allegedly defamatory statements were true. Cox was not able to prove that the allegedly defamatory statements were true.

If Cox had been a journalist, Padrick would have had to demand that she retract her false statements before he could sue her. Cox still—even with a huge judgment against her—has not retracted her statements, so it’s unlikely that she would have when such a judgment was only speculative.

Yes, the court held that, under Oregon’s journalist-shield law, Cox was not a journalist. My opinion of that? Meh. Don’t defame people.


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