Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet


"From the perspective of newsletter publishers, 1991 was a very bad year," says Lee Levine, lawyer for the Newsletter Publishers Association. Two suits filed last year, says Levine, have had a chilling effect on the willingness of small publishers to tackle controversial subjects.

In one case, shoemaker L.A. Gear Inc. sued Sporting Goods Intelligence, a Pennsylvania-based newsletter. L.A. Gear attacked an article predicting an earnings decline for the sneaker manufacturer. The suit was settled out of court.

In the second case, National Life Insurance Co. alleged that a newsletter published by Phillips Publishing Inc. libeled the insurer in an article rating insurance companies' debts. The suit is currently proceeding.

Libel-defense lawyer Bruce Sanford told The Wall Street Journal that savvy plaintiffs have learned that big news organizations often pick up stories from small publications. Intimidating small publications can keep bad news from spreading.