Slightly disgraced former NBC 5 reporter and Law & Order muse Amy Jacobson is suing lots of people at CBS 2, as well as CBS 2 interview subject Michele Weldon, an assistant journalism prof at Northwestern. The suit makes for great reading. Some highlights and notes:
On July 5th, 2007, Amy Jacobson was well on her way to fulfilling most of her dreams. She was a well-respected investigative journalist, some would say the best in the business.
If there is any doubt about the current industry-wide perception of Amy Jacobson, the Law & Order episode makes it crystal clear that the perception is that Ms. Jacobson is an adulteress and a completely unethical person.
Look, it’s not CBS 2’s fault that L&O went off the rails years ago. Anyway, to paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, “don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”
Also, Ms. Jacobson might want to talk to her lawyers about their sentence construction. [Or I could type better]
The story was called, “Bikini Clad Reporter Filmed at Home of Missing Mom.” The clear intent of this title is that plaintiff was trying to take the place of Lisa Stebic by making a social visit to the Stebic home in a bikini.
Defendant Weldon also stated in reference to Plaintiff Jacobson, “While it’s not a heinous crime it erodes all of our credibility as journalists.” Defendant Weldon’s statement implied that Plaintiff Jacobson had committed some crime, albeit not a heinous one and that she was unethical in her business practices…. Both claims by Defendant Weldon constitute defamation per se.
I doubt this is going to fly. As put on WGN’s Speaking Legally blog (in the context of the Judge Thomas libel case; there’s also a bit in the post about what “defamation per se” means that’s handy):
In cases against public figures, there is an interesting interplay between the First Amendment and defamation. Statements about public figures usually concern matters of public interest and are related to speech on a public issue. This is important dialogue that should not be chilled or unnecessarily abridged.
In this case, plaintiff must prove that defendant acted with actual malice. That means that the defamer knew that the information was false and published it anyway or that the defamer acted with reckless disregard of the truth. This requirement is not imposed upon regular defamation.
Since Weldon, who was not a competitor of Jacobson, was expressing an opinion, and a not-unique one at that, it seems pretty much impossible to prove actual malice. All I know about defamation comes from my experience as a journalist, as opposed to any legal training whatsoever, but including Weldon in the suit just seems petty.
Not to mention that Jacobson told Robert Feder of the S-T, shortly after her termination, that she’d committed a “lapse in judgment” and expected to be suspended. And she told Spike O’Dell (via Steve Rhodes’s thoughtful reflection on the incident) that it was a “horrible mistake.” Seems like that could come back to haunt her.
Defamation isn’t the only basis for the suit; she’s also charging invasion of privacy, and I have zero clue as to the legitimacy of her claims on that. I don’t think the defamation charges have much merit, but I have been drastically wrong before.