Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Public Citizen suggests that Barbour, Pickering, and Vitter PAC officials would lie under oath

Jackson Free Press investigative reporter has an article up this afternoon entitled "Dirty Laundry," in which he explores the Chip Pickering - Haley Barbour - David Vitter campaign contribution relay we've discussed here.  Lynch got in touch with Craig Holman of Public Citizen, who made a rather bold claim:

Getting answers would require the FEC to conduct a hard investigation that includes the subpoenaing of the treasurers of both PACs to completely prove the case.

"They have to, under oath, discover if there was any kind of direct or indirect agreement to funnel the money to Vitter," Holman said, adding that PAC treasurers are well capable of lying under oath.

16 comments:

Kingfish said...

This is nothing but slander and you know it. That could be said about ANYONE.

Matt Eichelberger said...

I think it's on the line, too, if not over it. That's why it's in italics. I don't endorse it, and I wanted to point out what, in my eyes, is a rather bold assertion, and one not based in fact.

Donna said...

Matt, I know you know that libel (it's not slander if it's in print) has to be an unfactual statement about about someone specifically. It is blatantly clear that neither Public Citizen nor Adam accused a particular treasurer of lying. Thus, it's obviously not libelous. I don't even see how you can say "on the line" in this case. Of course, you are a criminal defense attorney. ;-)

Donna said...

Also, Matt, you might tweak your headline. It doesn't match what you quoted from our story. The word "would" is particularly problematic.

Matt Eichelberger said...

Donna, the story is about the Pickering-Barbour-Vitter relay and its possible investigation by the FEC. A portion of the story focuses on how the FEC would go about conducting that investigation. Then, Mr. Holman comes in and says they've had trouble in the past because the PAC treasurers in their particular case allegedly committed perjury. Then we have the assertion that I deem problematic. The innuendo is there, as we know that the treasurers at issue are the ones for the three involved PACs.

Your defense would be that the statement by Mr. Holman is merely opinion. However, just because the statement is about someone's character for truth and veracity doesn't mean it can't be libelous.

Donna said...

The part you seem to be missing here, Matt, is that the statement you're concerned about is not about a particular treasurer. Who is it libeling, exactly? It states the rather obvious fact that any PAC treasurer can lie. Are PAC treasurers going to bring a class-action libel suit?

Also, again, your headline does not accurately represent what is in this story, and I'm surprised you've left it up so long.

Kingfish said...

Everyone that can read plain English knows what was meant by that line. It was a cheap shot by the person who wrote it. Its like the time Lynch referred to Michael Taylor as Frank Melton's "17 year old live-in companion" with the obvious inferences. Someone such as you with a Master's in Journalism knows the power of words and how you can create a certain image by shifting words a certain way as this writer did.

MSbeerbaitammo said...

Sounds like you're receiving an order Matt to change the headline.

Jim Craig said...

Generally speaking, "When a statement refers to a group, a member of that group may claim defamation if the group's size or other circumstances are such that a reasonable listener could conclude the statement referred to each member or 'solely or especially' to the plaintiff." Jankovic v. Int'l Crisis Group, 494F.3d 1080, 1090 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

AmJur states the rule and its rationale this way: "ordinarily where defamatory language is used broadly concerning the members of a large class or group, absent other circumstances specifically pointing to a particular member, no member has a right of action for libel or slander . . . . This rule embodies two important public policies: (1) where the group referred to is large, the courts presume that no reasonable reader would take the statements as literally applying to each individual member; and (2) the limitation on liability safeguards freedom of speech by effecting a sound compromise between the conflicting interests involved in libel cases."

Jim Craig said...

With respect to "opinions," the test is: "whether a statement is characterized as a 'fact' or 'opinion' is no longer a relevant inquiry in determining whether it may be constitutionally privileged. Rather, the relevant inquiry is whether the statement could be reasonably understood as declaring or implying a provable assertion of fact." Roussel v. Robbins, 688 So. 2d 714, 723 (Miss. 1996).

Jax said...

I don't know that it's libelous, but that's not really the questions here. To say something like "PAC treasurers are well capable of lying under oath" without some showing of a factual basis is an irresponsible thing to say. Like KF said, anyone could say about someone else, "Well, of course, when asked about it under oath, he could very well just lie."

So, for the JFP to repeat what this guy said is pretty irresponsible in my opinion.

Donna - you made my point pretty well: "It states the rather obvious fact that any PAC treasurer can lie."

Exactly. The fact that anyone can lie is obvious. So, why print it? What value does it add to the article?

Jim Craig said...

As I read it, Public Citizen was saying that they do not trust the veracity of statements, even under oath, made by PAC treasurers. I don't see that as defamatory or irresponsible.

Jax said...

Jim - point well taken but, there's a lot of people I don't trust for reasons I cannot totally explain. I don't go around making public statements though telling people that's what I think just because ...

Donna said...

Thanks, Jim. My point exactly. It's not libel or even "on the line" if it's a general statement about what an undefined group is capable of doing. (Especially when that group is made up of political figures!) On blogs every day, you see actual libel -- when people just make up specific "facts" about other people, and think the opinion defense protects them. But that isn't what you have here. Something that can be said about anyone is the exact opposite of being "on the line."

Clearly, there is nothing irresponsible about stating the obvious. In fact, it is a necessary component of thoughtful journalism—to remind people, or quote someone reminding people, that even (cough, cough) political figures and their supporters can't always be trusted. Stating the obvious sometimes helps lower the gullibility quotient and gets people to ask more questions. And often, getting people to question is even more important than knowing what the answer is. Obviously, we don't in this case, and would assume that the relevant PAC treasurers are innocent until proved guilty.

Now, about that misleading headline, Matt ... if you took out the middle part "Barbour, Pickering and Vitter PAC officials," it would be more reflective of the piece. Or edit "would" to "could." As it is, though, it just doesn't reflect what the article said, especially that trigger word "would."

Matt Eichelberger said...

Donna, I don't think the headline is misleading. You and I disagree on this; so be it. But I'm not changing the headline.

Donna said...

So be it, Matt. I just want it clear to anyone who stumbles on this post that the paper that actually published the article you're citing does not endorse your false characterization of it.