The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, January 31, 2004

New York Times writer threatens libel suit against critical blogger

[Corrected 5:10 AM]

I flagged (January 29) Jack Shafer's piece on his doubts about an article by Peter Landesman on sex slaves in America.

In the interim, all hell broke loose: Shafer's latest piece leads to all the relevant links.

The blogger concerned is Daniel Radosh, who had the temerity to link, interrogatively and by allusion, the Landesman case with - let's just say a party with whom Landesman had no desire to be linked. (Ever heard of forum-shopping? Not that Mr Landesman would ever consider such a thing. Which would be completely legal if he did. Just to clear that up.)

The editor of the Times Magazine, Gerry Marzorati, wrote to Shafer, in response to an email on the threats from Landesman to Radosh, saying
When I found out about it yesterday, I e-mailed an apology to Radosh, and Landesman, I believe, has apologized to him, too. If you too felt or feel threatened, that apology extends to you, sincerely. I want you to understand that there will be absolutely no repercussions from me, the Times, or Landesman for expressing your opinions.

Which is fine.

Except that Shafer says
I e-mailed Landesman asking if he still planned to send his lawyers after Radosh. His response in full: "No comment."

Marzorati's no repercussions assurance only applies in terms to Shafer. I'm unclear whether the apology given by Marzorati to Radosh included an assurance that no further action would be take against him
  1. by the Times; or

  2. by either the Times and by Landesman.

And, if the latter, whether Marzorati had Landesman's authority to give such an assurance.

I am also unclear to what extent the Times may have contractual rights to affect whether and how Landesman takes legal action in relation to work published by it. Is he an employee of the NYT Company - his description at the bottom of the article is contributing writer - which sounds as if it might equally be a staff writer or a freelance. One would imagine that the Times' control over actions taken by a freelance - an independent contractor - might be less than over those taken by an employee. But no doubt a freelance contract could be drafted to cover the point.

The will on the part of Marzorati seems, to judge from his email to Shafer, to be that the matter be treat as closed. Landesman's email to Shafer seems more directed at the manner of his contact with Radosh, rather than the substance.

Emails from the pair to Radosh, not reproduced by Shafer, are in the same sense, as Shafer describes them.

Clearly, the Times has a commercial interest in seeing that its journalists do not precipitately commence legal suits in relation to work it publishes. I cannot believe that the contractual arrangements it makes with all its writers, whatever their legal status, do not protect it in this respect.

A case to keep an eye on.

[I had misread the Shafer piece so far as not to credit Marzorati with his evident desire to avoid further repercussions arising from the incident.

However, the questions remain whether Landesman will pursue legal action against Radosh; and what, if anything, the Times can do to interfere with that action.]

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