Now THAT’S Defamation…

I don’t know what is so hard to grasp about the concept of defamation. The idea is that one must not assert as fact something about a person that is demonstrably false and that holds that person up to public ridicule or hostility, harming their reputation. It is easily distinguishable from opinion: it must be published “with fault,” meaning as a result of negligence (asserting a “fact” without checking that it is true) or malice (with the intent of harming someone’s reputation). Why is that difficult? I don’t know. This guy, however, really doesn’t understand defamation, and he was a radio talk show host. That’s like not understanding snakes and becoming a snake charmer. Yes, the ethics value being missed here is competence.

New Hampshire radio talk show host Michael Gill (above)  used billboards, his website and his radio show called “State of Corruption Radio” to call local businessmen, among other things, heroin dealers. A typical broadcasts included quotes like this:

“Now I told you, and I’ve been telling you, the heroin dealers are in this state are Anagnost and Crews. Now who are these people? Well a couple of the wealthiest men in our state. That’s how they got wealthy, okay? They have a warehouse. I brought this up. We had witnesses, distributing and unloading drugs and machine guns from trucks.”

Wait, what? Didn’t this guy have a lawyer? Didn’t the station have a lawyer? Any lawyer within hearing distance of a broadcast like that had a duty to rush to the station, break into the studio, and stuff a wadded up sock in Gill’s mouth. Continue reading

Stats, Polar Bears, and “Truth by Repetition”

When I did marketing for a company that created annuities for the recipients of large court damages, I was armed with alarming statistics I had gleaned from the annuity industry’s publications.  Half of the recipients of large lump sum settlements or damages from personal injury and medical negligence lawsuits had dissipated all of the funds (usually calculated to last a lifetime) within two years or less. More than 75% had blown through all the cash, often millions of dollars, within five years. These figures were accepted as fact everywhere,  and we used them profitably to persuade plaintiffs, lawyers and courts to approve annuity arrangements that would parcel out the funds over the years, keeping the money safe from needy relatives and spending sprees. Then, one day, I decided to track down the studies that were the sources of the statistics I was using.

There weren’t any. I discovered a circular trail, with various sources quoting each other. Continue reading