A federal judge's ruling that bloggers are not journalists has created a huge stir in the news and legal world since we broke the story yesterday. But behind the legal distinction is a man who quite successfully proved that he had been defamed by a blogger. That man responded to the story today.
"I don't think there should be any lesser or any greater standard on the medium of the message," Padrick says. "But just because it's on the Internet you shouldn't be able to hide behind that."
In case you missed it, Crystal Cox was sued for defamation by the investment firm Obsidian Finance Group earlier this year after she posted several highly-critical articles about the company and Padrick.
In classic over-the-top blogspeak Cox had called Padrick a liar, a thief, a fraud and just about everything else bad under the sun. And to this day, a Google search for Kevin Padrick brings up a multiple-page-long list of negative stories written about him by Cox--an unfortunate state of affairs given that Padrick is a lawyer and people often Google their lawyers (or anyone these days) before they hire one.
Obsidian's attorney's had submitted dozens of Cox's blog posts as evidence in the trial, but the judge threw out all but one, saying that the others were clearly opinion pieces and therefore cannot be viewed as defamatory.
One post, however, was singled out as admissible because the judge said it was more factual in tone than others. And it was this post that a jury unanimously ruled was defamatory, leading to a judgement against Cox for $2.5 million.
In the ruling the judge noted that Oregon's media shield laws do not extend to people that are not employed by a newspaper, magazine, TV station, radio station or other "official" media outlet.
. . . although defendant is a self-proclaimed "investigative blogger" and defines herself as "media," the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law
Padrick says he understands why that distinction might rub bloggers and journos the wrong way, but he says there's a more complicated story to tell.
He sends the following statement that details his general response to the entire case and to the issues it brings up.
So the discussion comes full circle to the definition of "media." Let me reiterate that our case did not turn in any way on the Oregon Shield Law. And even if Cox was entitled to heightened First Amendment protection we are confident the jury would have found in our favor using a higher standard given the lack of any proof of the truthfulness of Cox's statements.
However, for societal purposes the definition of media is important (even if it wasn't for our case). Should someone be able to self-proclaim themselves to be "media?" How should media be defined? I fully agree that the medium shouldn't define who is and who is not media. However, if anyone can self-proclaim themselves to be media, then the concept of media has been rendered worthless. What some reporters writing on this topic are missing is that cheapening the definition of media is far more of an attack on true media (and the First Amendment) than anything else. When everyone is media the concept of media is gone for all purposes. The real threat here is not defining media too narrowly, but defining it too broadly. (As to our case remember that Cox presented no evidence that she was media regardless of how it was defined unless the definition is that anyone with a computer is media.) The same standards should apply regardless of the medium, be it internet, print, radio, tv, etc.
Cox's response to Padrick's response is that the real issue in this case is whether bloggers have the same rights as "real" journalists.
". . . it is has nothing to do with this post or me being press, having actual malice or the true merits of this case," Cox writes to Seattle Weekly. "This will distort the issue and if that's what you want that is fine. If i don't win my appeal, we all lose."
We agree that the blogger-versus-journalist distinction is vastly important.
But it's also important to note that even if Cox had been awarded shield-law protections in the lawsuit, she still most likely would have lost her case, because she was never able to prove her accusations against Padrick were true, with or without her secret source.
So while Cox's fate has and should send ripples of concern throughout the blogging and journalism community, the flip side of that coin is that if bloggers are able to post defamatory articles all over the Internet where they will permanently remain, it can have an ill effect on the entire medium of Internet journalism.