Monday, May 19, 2008

Suing a blogger

After reading Paul Kirby's story the other day about the mayor of Kingston suing a blogger for libel, what popped into my mind was the famous question "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno asked actor Hugh Grant after the latter had been arrested for soliciting a prostitute: "What the hell were you thinking?"

Why would the mayor or any other public official sue anyone for libel, much less a blogger with little standing and few readers? The mayor almost certainly won't win, the bar to prevail in a libel case having been set at an incredibly high level for people in his position. And even if by some miracle he does win, there's little he can get from this blogger, whose pockets apparently aren't very deep.

All the mayor is likely to accomplish is to draw more attention to what he believed was the libelous remark. (Many more people have read the subsequent news accounts of what the blogger said than when it showed up on the blog in the first place.) And he'll make a martyr of someone who hasn't earned it.

I'll say this: Much as I cringe at nuisance libel suits, if the mayor gets the attention of the many bloggers and anonymous Internet commentators who believe anything -- and I mean anything -- goes, that's not such a bad thing.

Those of us who have been in journalism for more than 20 minutes have a healthy respect for what we do and how we do it. Journalists also understand when we're near the legal line and take pains not to cross it.

There are some interesting and thoughtful blogs floating around in cyberspace. And then there are those bloggers who need to understand that what may pass for discourse in a tavern or at a private party isn't necessarily fit for public consumption.

Put another way, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own set of facts.
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