These days, thanks to the seminal 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan ruling, it’s rare for a newspaper to lose a defamation lawsuit in the U.S. – but The New York Post may prove to be an exception to the rule.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, before the responsible parties were identified, the Post covered their April 18th edition with a picture of 16-year-old Salaheddin Barhoum and 24-year old Yassine Zaimi. The words “BAG MEN” in bold type ran across the top, with the subheading, “Feds Seek These Two Pictured At Boston Marathon.”
Unfortunately for the paper, the people pictured weren’t the bombers. They were two legal United States residents — who happen to be dark-complexioned. As you might imagine, they’re suing for libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress and false light invasion of privacy.
Despite the obvious mess up on the part of the Post, the daily is sticking by its interpretation of the incident, insisting that the photo used was “emailed to law enforcement agencies seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects.”
In a recent lawsuit-related document, the Post is also arguing that the headline is merely an “attention-getter” that should not be read as a “true reflection” of the story inside. Furthermore, the paper maintains it played no part in “influencing readers to jump to conclusions.”
Let’s recap. A nationally recognized newspaper is using “Oh, people know our headlines aren’t real,” as a legal defamation defense.
Welp, good night and good luck, I guess.