Blogger Loses Defamation Case, Judge Weighs in on Who is "Really" a Journalist


Blogger Crystal Cox owes $2.5 million to Obsidian Finance Group for defaming them on her blog, says a U.S. District Court in Oregon. Part of her defense involved claiming a knowledgeable source told her some of the things said to be untrue defamation, and she tried to claim Oregon's journalism shield law to protect that source's identity.

As the Seattle Weekly explains it:

without revealing her source Cox couldn't prove that the statements she'd made in her post were true and therefore not defamation, or attribute them to her source and transfer the liability.

Oregon's media shield law reads:

"No person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public shall be required by … a judicial officer … to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise … [t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public[.]" The judge in Cox's case, however, ruled that the woman did not qualify for shield-law protection not because of anything she wrote, but because she wasn't employed by an official media establishment.

From the opinion by U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez:

". . . 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."

Matt Welch in Reason back in 2005 argued that shield laws should protect journalism, not officially-employed journalists. Judge Hernandez, by the way, goes on to say that even if she were a for-real journalist the shield-law wouldn't apply for this civil defamation suit. Still, getting district judges on record making that kind of distinction portends grim things in the actual world of journalism we are living in.

The full opinion in the Cox case.