Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coughlin v. Renner and NY Times v. Sullivan

While the blogosphere has been tittering about whether State Sen. Kevin Coughlin dallied with a staffer, some of us have been wondering why an alleged libel suit threat could possibly have spiked the story.

If you are late to the story, Scene Magazine reporter James Renner was fired last week for his reaction to news that his editor and publisher were burying a story alleging that Coughlin was having an affair with an identified former staffer. Renner sent the story to Tim Russo who published it. Professor Idontlink at Pol. Sci. 216 has also picked up the story and followed up with more detail from Renner

According to Renner's story posted on BI, Scene decided to kill the story after getting letters from Sen. Coughlin's attorney threatening a libel suit if the story went to press. The posted story also details Renner's reporting which includes interviewing multiple and an entertaining attempt to secure comment from Coughin's alleged paramour.

Based on the facts as presented by Renner, Scene's action is inexplicable. Coughlin is a public figure. As such any libel action he brings would have to meet the high constitutional standard set by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan. The Court held that:

    The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made [280] with "actual malice"--that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.
Recall that Renner says he has the roommate of alleged Coughlin squeeze on tape verifying the affair, plus other witnesses, put squeeze's patently evasive response to an interview request. Put it together and Coughlin has a nearly impossible task of proving that Renner was reckless.

And the Sullivan standard assumes that allegations in a story are false and therefore defamatory. If the allegations are true, Scene also wins. The Sullivan actual malice requirement offers news organizations a way to avoid the long, expensive business of proving truth. Which in a way is a pity as (from what I've heard) the defense would be able to put together a long and impressive witness list.

Scene management knows (or at least should know) all of the above. Their abject surrender to Coughlin is puzzling.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Akron Press Club: The State of Ohio's Newspapers Panel

The next program at the Akron Press Club will be a panel discussion featuring the Editors of three major Ohio newspapers. While they will discuss the state of the news business generally, one item high on the agenda will be the Ohio News Organization, a collaboration through which major papers buy stories from one another.

The panelists will be Bruce Winges from the Akron Beacon Journal, Susan Goldberg from the Plain Dealer and Jeff Gauer from the Canton Repository.

I had a hand in putting this one together and am pretty excited about it. Info and contact for reservations here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tomorrow in Akron Legal News (Shameless Plugs, Pt. 1)

I've mentioned previously my latest writing venture, a biweekly column in the Akron Legal News. Tomorrow will be my fifth column since all this started. Since they haven't run me out yet, this seems solid enough to start blogging about without jinxing it. So I'll start posting a preview with a few links, perhaps a nut graf or two and maybe even a few snippets from the cutting room floor. Unfortunately you have to get the dead tree version of the Legal News to actually read the thing as my columns aren't being posted on the website yet.

So this week I was inspired by the 50th anniversary of Strunk and White's Elements of Style and some of the inevitable anti-Elements backlash from the descriptivist camp as a hook. While the descriptivist may have some points about some of the grammar "rules" contained in Elements, I'm concerned that the general reaction against prescriptive grammar has provided some of the impetus to stop teaching grammar in K-12 schools, to the detriment of students and those of us who have to read there writing attempts in college.

Nut graf:

    Conjugating verbs, learning parts of speech and diagramming sentences seem rote and pointless, especially to succeeding generations of more digitized students. But that kind of grammar instruction gives us a language to speak about language. We can teach good, clear, readable writing more easily when students understand how the parts of language work together and have a vocabulary for discussing those parts.
Some linkage. The anti-Elements rant that serves as my hook is here. The ABA Journal online post that gave me the idea and a passible claim that it is germane to a legal publication is here. The author, Geoffey Pullum is one of the lead bloggers in Language Log which a linguistics-blog-fan friend says is the biggie in the field. I'm frankly a bit leery about having used the Pullum piece as hook, even though I don't directly take it on because a) Pullum is very good and knows far more about usage than I could ever hope to and b) a survey of his posts reveals that he can be markedly unpleasant to anyone who disagrees with him.

Anyway, if you happen to get the Legal News or otherwise come across it tomorrow, give it a look.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Random Weekend: Low Posting Zone Edition

This week is APS spring break, so Prof. W has taken Kids Z and T out of town. While the cats are away the mice will work his butt off on projects that wouldn't fly if the kids were around. Not to say I won't post, but I have about a dozen priorities head.

Now here it is, your moment of ten:

  1. REM – “I Believe”
  2. Nicholas Payton – “Concentric Circles”
  3. Stan Getz – “Four Brothers”
  4. Solomon Burke – “Get Out of My Life Woman”
  5. Michael Frante and Spearhead “Light Up Your Lighter”
  6. The Cramps – “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns”
  7. Eels – “Flower”
  8. Shriekback – “Lined Up”
  9. Ramones – “I Don’t Care”
  10. Dire Straights – “Telegraph Road”
Major college flashback time. The Shriekback song was our background track for a college radio show. Ramones, REM and Dire Straights were all favs, though for different reasons and different times of the day.

'Scuse me. I think I have a paper due.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Norka Notes

Bringing it back -- an occasional round up of things Akron.

First Energy Biomass Conversion -- The Akron-based energy company announced today that it will convert a Cleveland coal-burning plant to burn biomass -- basically farm waste. The conversion moves the plant into the (sort of) renewable and (sort of) carbon-neutral column.

Akron Film Festival Begins Tomorrow. Yes, we have one, and a pretty avant-garde fest at that. This year hosted at the Akron Art Museum. Films scheduled through Sunday. Yes, the festival is facebooking, not they are not tweeting.

Pizza Robber Shot. Preliminary indications suggest this could get ugly. It looks like a legitimate case of self-defense, but the dead robbers friends are making ugly noises around the neighborhood. Further thoughts from Eric Mansfield.

Why They're Called the Aeros. Goodyear is celebrating 100 years of work in aviation.

Dan Auerbach Solo Roundup. Half of Akron's Black Keys released his first solo album last month. A random sample of coverage of the recording from NPR, LA Times (I do believe that's the tressel over Memorial Parkway he's posing on), video on Rolling Stone, and because it involves The Black Keys, Australia. Also, Auerbach got raves for his South By Southwest set. By the way, it's really weird for me personally reading and writing about Auerbach. That recording studio he built in a house in Akron? It was my mom's house.