April 07, 2005


If a newspaper had constantly referred to Michael Jackson as a pedophile they'd have risked not only the loss of their reputation (or what's left of it) but possible legal action. Same if they'd have called OJ a murderer or Scott Peterson a baby killer. Now in all the above it is being or was alleged that the respective parties were in fact those very things, but because they hadn't been convicted in a court of law deference was given & the possibility that they were innocent prevailed despite strong public opinion to the contrary.

Even when facts are established the press tends to be lenient with name calling - at least on occasion. Ever read "adulterer" in the same sentence (or story) as "Bill Clinton"?

At the Blogger Bash there was a fellow who has been referred to as a Libertarian. His views seemed more leftist to me but I admit I only caught part of the conversation. At some point he asked me if I considered bloggers to be journalists. I said "No; bloggers are honest". It was meant more in jest than anything but as with any generalization there are exceptions. The one I'll be pointing out today is TChris of TalkLeft.

Before I continue let me point out that TalkLeft is on my blogroll despite being a self proclaimed "liberal" site. Jeralyn Merritt runs the show over there & she met the exacting criteria for inclusion on the blogroll (i.e. having a blog & at least being sympathetic to the Right to Arms). For an example of her view on the Right to Arms see here.

Merriam-Webster defines Libel as:

"1 a : a written statement in which a plaintiff in certain courts sets forth the cause of action or the relief sought b archaic : a handbill especially attacking or defaming someone
2 a : a written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression b (1) : a statement or representation published without just cause and tending to expose another to public contempt (2) : defamation of a person by written or representational means (3) : the publication of blasphemous, treasonable, seditious, or obscene writings or pictures (4) : the act, tort, or crime of publishing such a libel"

Merriam-Webster defines Vigilante as:

"a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law appear inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice"

Now I bring this up to point out that TChris has been making very pointed accusations concerning The Minuteman Project. I was rather harsh on Bush for making the same type of statements. I'm not a respecter of persons (to paraphrase Jesus) so I don't intend to let TChris off any easier.

The Minuteman Project is comprised of people from different areas of the country, but mainly from the southwestern states. Their purpose is to draw attention to the inadequate patrolling of our southern border. They seek to accomplish this by setting up observation posts & reporting anyone who appears to be crossing the border illegally. To be clear on this, they only intend to call the border patrol & report any suspicious activity. They do not intend to detain, let alone determine guilt & punish anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant.

So it would seem that "vigilante" is an inaccurate statement to make. Further it imparts a very negative aspect to the reputation of those being called such. Most people don't see "vigilante" as being a badge of honor & treat those called such in a less than cordial manner. In short such an accusation does damage to the reputation of the accused.

Here's an excerpt from the FAQ section of the Minuteman Project's website:

"When intruders are spotted, USBP agents will be summoned by cell phone. The MMProject communication center should also be notified at this time via cell phone or pre-established short wave radio systems that will be available on April 1. The intruders will be followed until USBP shows up to intercept and apprehend them.

No 'hostile' confrontation with intruders will be allowed. The MMProject participants will only "spot and report", the USBP takes it from there.

If the intruders move through your ranks, you let them pass. You may continue to follow them and provide USBP and the MMProject communication center with updates of the location of the intruders. You do not threaten them in any manner. If they are in need of food or water, you may provide some. If they are in need of medical attention, you inform USBP of their need for medical attention. Under no circumstances are you to engage in argumentative or hostile confrontation with any illegal alien. You back off, and let the USBP properly conduct the interception and apprehension of the illegal aliens.

If you are susceptible to "road rage", or "hot temper" syndromes, then this volunteer work is not for you. Any such acts will seriously jeopardize the goal of the MMProject and bring unwanted ridicule to its efforts to assist the USBP. It will also prevent the MMProject from sending a mature and sincere message to Washington that Americans want their immigration laws 'enforced'.

Remember, we are there to "assist" law enforcement in the conduct of their jobs, not to take the law into our own hands. A violation of this standard could easily result in your arrest for alleged kidnapping. This is a very sensitive issue and you are earnestly warned NOT to interfere with the movement of illegal aliens other than to observe and report their location to USBP."

TChris has repeatedly called the Minuteman Project a group of "vigilantes".

"With armed vigilantes making headlines..."

"...Calling themselves the Minuteman Project, the volunteers plan to rally in Tombstone before starting their month-long endeavor. They say they'll report their observations to the Border Patrol, and the volunteers have been instructed not to shoot anyone, even if they come under fire. The risk, however, is that some volunteers will decide to take the law into their own hands, bringing a return of 'vigilante justice' to Arizona..."

"It didn't take long for the vigilante group known as the Minuteman Project..."

Now all this despite TChris admitting in one post that the Minuteman Project aims to simply report, not detain let alone judge or punish those suspected of illegal immigration. Presumably he did look through the Minuteman Project's website. So with a knowing disregard for the statements & intentions of the Minuteman Project, & with what should be a clear understanding of what constitutes libel (TChris is a lawyer btw) he has thrown baseless & unfounded accusations at the Minuteman Project's members. I do not see how that could be considered anything but libelous. No proof has been offered that they are acting, or even intend to act, as "vigilantes" & calling them such has no doubt had a negative impact on their reputation.

Odd though; I always thought that J. Jonah Jameson was simply a comic book character. Yet certain of his actions bear a striking resemblance to those of TChris.

I'm not one to call for government intervention in most things. It does more harm than good. & this is not different. What I would like to see is, barring TChris making a retraction, is the Minuteman Project filing a libel suit against him for his unwarranted accusations. Odds are it won't happen. But unless &/or until TChris retracts his statements calling or implying the Minuteman Project is comprised of "vigilantes" then his credibility is greatly diminished. After all if he'll make false statements about a group he doesn't like then wouldn't he be prone to making false statements about a group he supports/ & since he has made false statements about a subject I know something of, then why should I trust him when he speaks of subjects that I'm not as well versed in?

Saying the Minuteman Project isn't a good idea is one thing. Saying they shouldn't be doing it, while insulting, is not inexcusable. Having a differing view is almost a necessity in this type of culture. But making false & baseless accusations to the detriment of a group of people is (or should be) unpardonable in the blogosphere.

Posted by Publicola at April 7, 2005 02:52 PM

I'm pretty sure that they would get some protection against libel claims by Jackson and Simpson under the public persons doctrine, but yeah, pretty much. Peterson would be a potential libel case.

Posted by: Phelps at April 7, 2005 03:29 PM

I'm in agreement with you, but I don't think it should (or will) go so far as a lawsuit. A retraction would be great; a retraction and an apology would be perfect. But I doubt we'll see either.

Posted by: Adam Lawson at April 9, 2005 12:05 PM
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