Friday, June 26, 2009

Actual Malice Claim v. CBS May Proceed

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A U.S. District Court Judge for the District of New Mexico has ruled that a jury could find actual malice against CBS, giving the go-ahead to a defamation suit brought by a procurement assistant at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The case, Lillian Anaya and Mel Anaya v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc., et al (No. 06-0476) involves several broadcasts alleging that Mrs. Anaya used $30,000 in government funds to purchase a customized Ford Mustang. The court allowed in part, and denied in part, the defendants' motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiffs could pursue punitive damages based on certain statements that aired in follow-up stories. In a 107-page opinion, the court also found that Mrs. Anaya, though initially a private individual when the accusations initially were broadcast, became, for defamation purposes, a limited public figure plaintiff in late 2003 and early 2004 because she sought out the news media to clear her name.

CBS reported that Mrs. Anaya was the target of an FBI probe for allegedly using a government credit card to purchase the Mustang. Court documents claim that an internal inquiry concluded that Mrs. Anaya provided the credit card information via fax to a Mustang dealership in the mistaken belief that she was ordering equipment from a government vendor, unaware that the vendor's phone number had changed and was now a car dealership.

The Court found that the CBS reporter in one story showed footage of a customized Mustang while doing a voiceover stating Mrs. Anaya purchased the vehicle with taxpayer money, despite evidence suggesting no car had been purchased and that the evidence, "supported, at most, an allegation she attempted to charge a car, and the attempt was stopped." The court will allow a jury to decide whetherr CBS intentionally took the report out of context.

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1 comment:

  1. CBS looks dumb because the facts aren't clear: does she have the car or doesn't she? Did she spend the money or not? As for Mrs. Anaya, how is it even conceivable that she thought she was buying government supplies and mistakenly received a Ford Mustang instead? A horse is involved, all right, and a lot of horse by-product, too.