Federal Judge Hits Blogger with $2.5m Charge For "Not Being A Journalist" *UPDATED

This is certainly scary, although it should scare some of the progressive trolls whose content is built on innuendo and libel.


In a case that’s sending a frightening message to the blogger community, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a blogger must pay $2.5 million to an investment firm she wrote about — because she isn’t a real journalist.

As reported by Seattle Weekly, Judge Marco A. Hernandez said Crystal Cox, who runs several blogs, wasn’t entitled to the protections afforded to journalists — specifically, Oregon’s media shield law for sources — because she wasn’t “affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”

The Obsidian Finance Group sued Cox in January for $10 million for writing several blog posts critical of the company and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Obsidian argued that the writing was defamatory. Cox represented herself in court.

The judge threw out all but one of the blog posts cited, focusing on just one (this one), which was more factual in tone than the rest of her writing. Cox said that was because she was being fed information from an inside source, whom she refused to name.

Without the source, she couldn’t prove the information in the post was true — and thus, according to the judge, she didn’t qualify for Oregon’s media shield law since she wasn’t employed by a media establishment. In the court’s eyes, she was a blogger, not a journalist. The penalty: $2.5 million.

The question then becomes what qualifies one as a journalist in the age of new media? Is one required to have a byline at a major media outlet when the perspective of MSM is so skewed one particular way that they’ve tanked public trust?

There’s an underlying issue in this. Requiring a liberal pedigree with an overpriced four-year journalism higher education to simply do what thousands of bloggers do (and better) everyday is a scam. There is an effort to keep journalism in the hands of those who can be bought, who’ve proven that they can be bought, those who will report the stories in a way that leas offends the ideology in charge.

Do you know why new media exploded, why citizen journalism grew so quickly? They told the stories that the MSM wouldn’t tell. They went out and performed original reporting and brought fresh content to the masses, content unlike what they were seeing in their papers and on the nightly news. If what they did wasn’t accurate or viable then they never would have succeeded. This is a testament to the checks and balances of the blogosphere and the diligence of frustrated citizen journalists. MSM was owned in a historic way and they’ve never recovered–and that they keep trying the same tactics also shows that they never learned.

But back to the case at hand: should citizen journalists be protected?

I’m curious as to your thoughts on this. I’ll paste some of the best comments below.

*UPDATE: Forbes weighs in with a great perspective.

Crystal Cox was that the judge in the case determined that she wasn’t a “journalist” according to Oregon law, because she was not “affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.” This has led to a slew of angry stories, pointing out that bloggers are journalists. But these stories have not dug deeply enough. The facts in the case are far more complicated, and after hearing them, most journalists will not want to include Cox in their camp.

This story is not like that of Johnny Northside Hoff, the Minneapolis blogger who was (unfairly) ordered to pay $60,000 to a university employee after a truthful post about mortgage fraud led to his firing. If you Google Crystal Cox’swork about Obsidian Financial Group, you will find a host of websites full of erratic writing about the firm’s allegedly unethical practices, with domain names like “obsidianfinancialsucks.com.” She mainly directed her ire at firm principal Kevin Padrick. His search results are ruined — dominated by posts on websites Cox created, such as “bankruptcytrustfraud.com,” “realestatelies.com,” and “realestatehoax.com.” Obsidian’s tech team found dozens of sites that appeared to have been created by Cox to write about Obsidian, says Padrick, and over 1,900 others that she had created to write about other people and companies. This is not the work of a journalist, but the work of someone intent on destroying reputations.

They’re right. That is libel, not free speech.

YOUR COMMENTS (and you all had some great ones. Bold my emphasis):

I’m honestly not sure there SHOULD be “shield laws.” They encourage irresponsible, unverifiable reporting. Libel law in the United States is extremely weak, and a good journalist — whether “professional” or a blogger — should be willing to do the work and get the sources to make reports that can’t be considered defamatory. The “shield laws” mean in practice that it is impossible to verify a reporter’s work, rendering it suspect, empowering propagandists, and leading to silly books claiming to depict the truth but with no citations or evidence to back up their often fantastical claims, e.g. anything by Bob Woodward.

This is made even worse by the fact that the people that wrote the First Amendment started the American revolution by using small presses and printing pamphlets at home, which would be their technological equivalent to a blog.

As a former journalist and current blogger (albeit always in the mostly harmless areas of feature writing and entertainment reviews), I found this story disturbing. Even IF the woman represented herself in court (and thus had an idiot for a client), my first thought was she should be afforded the protection given to ANY journalist–staffer, stringer, self-publisher–who wants to keep a source anonymous.

But then I went and read some of her blogs and blog posts. Or tried to. They were so badly written I found myself giving up.



In this SPECIFIC case, I think the judge was correct in the ruling. This woman is not a journalist. She’s the worst kind of semi-literate blogger.
It’s further damning that she also seems to have a habit of labeling unsubstantiated accusations as “facts”; I noted a number of those in one of the posts I tried to wade through… and back in my journalism days, I would have striken [sic] or rephrased those from any article or column I was writing or editing.

Now.that’s not to say there isn’t a problem with Oregon’s media shield law; it doesn’t seem to take into account the web’s “New Media.” (I’m led to understand that Washington State’s law does, which gives me comfort. Although I’m not sure that Crystal Cox would qualify as a journalist even under that, given the nature of her posts.)

It is also interesting to note that over a series of postings at http://www.obsidianfinancesucks.com/ she tries to show how the judge was wrong but, at least as I read them, show the exact opposite.

Every day citizens and bloggers speech should be held to a higher standard than someone depicting themselves as a journalist. If there are different standards, the journalist should be held to a higher standard. I, however, believe they should probably be held to equal standards if for no other reason than there is no clear line to put journalists behind. Any such difference in standards merely invites judicial activism.

That said, the anyone who uses an anonymous source should verify the content of their publications through means that they could verify in court.

On the other hand if they phrased they article with the weasel words “an anonymous source claimed” I’m not sure a party should have a claim to defamation as such a statement is meaningless anyway.

Well, OK. Then, I guess journalists should be held to the same standard as bloggers, which apparently are higher standards. ??

Sarah Palin should make a haul from both!

Who gets to decide who gets to be a journalist? A judge? Horrible, horrible precedent.

What makes a journalist? Certainly not this idiot punk, (come sue me), federal judge’s description!

When Ben Franklin was publishing Poor Richards Almanac, he was a journalist. When all of the original publications bringing news to the people were founded, they were founded by journalists. The act of keeping and sharing a journal of events makes the one keeping and sharing the journal a journalist. Where they work, or how much the MSM pays them to lie and slant their news does not enter the job description.

This idiot thug judge, (PLEASE COME SUE ME, INTELLECTUALLY BARREN JUDGE MARCO A. HERNANDEZ), will be reversed on the basis of intellectual stupidity, and failure to understand the First Amendment.

Completely uncomplicated, this.

Journalists aren’t the only persons who enjoy free speech rights. Is Freedom of Speech inviolate? No. But the people’s right to free speech is NO LESS than that of someone calling themselves a journalist, and here is why:

Journalists, as has been demonstrated endlessly year-in-year-out, can pretty much say whatever they want, unless your can prove otherwise, in which case you are still miles away from proving libel. A retraction on page 6 or an apology (on page 19) is a thousand times more likely than “consideration” amounting to anything, and therein lies the rub for our judge.

Journalists are not licensed any more than are writers, musicians, artists, commentators…inventors; it’s a very long list. Freedom to achieve, freedom to fail. Finally, the founders understood that it is necessary for the citizens to bear the responsibility of educating themselves because they have the responsibility of protecting themselves.

This ruling not only won’t stand, it and our Judge will be roundly derided.

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