(This Blogpost is the First in a Three Part Series by Boston Injury Lawyer, the attorney, who analyzes an interesting recent U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling involving defamation, public officials and the news media. Click Here to view Part Two)
PART ONE – THE SCHOOL HATE CRIME INCIDENT MAKES LOCAL NEWS
The U.S. District Court of Massachusetts has affirmed a lower Court’s summary judgment ruling that Fox News Network, LLC (“Fox”), and “Fox and Friends” television personalities, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, did not defame the Superintendent of the Lewiston, Maine public schools during a morning show, which ran in April, 2007.
The story involves an incident, which took place on April 11, 2007, when a student at the Lewiston Middle School placed a bag containing leftover ham on the cafeteria table where Somali Muslim students were sitting for lunch. The Somali students reported the incident, which resulted in an investigation and suspension of the offending students. The incident was classified as a “Hate Crime/Bias” in the school’s computer system, and a police report was filed characterizing the incident as “Crime: Harassment/Hate Bias.”
The Plaintiff, Leon Levesque, was the superintendent of the Lewiston School System. He was informed of the suspension and endorsed the decision. The following week, a reporter for the Lewiston Sun Journal, interviewed Levesque for an article she intended to write about the incident, which was published on April 19, 2007. The article included quotations from Levesque, describing the offending student’s conduct as “a hate incident”.
Four days later, one Nicholas Plagman uploaded a piece he had written about the April 11 incident to Associated Content, a website, which permits registered users to publish content on topics of their choosing. The Plagman article mischaracterized some facts, such as reporting that the students left a ham sandwich, rather than ham steak, on the cafeteria table, that “an anti-ham ‘response plan” was going to be put in place, and attributing fictitious quotations to Levesque. Plagman also falsely listed the Associated Press (“AP”) as a source.
(Part Two of this Blog, entitled FOX & FRIENDS READS AND REACTS, to appear in the next days)