In rewriting an L.A. Times investigation about Beverly Hills detox doctor David Kipper, the New York Post dropped the careful wording used by the LAT and said flat-out (and inaccurately) that "the state medical board revoked Kipper's license, accusing him of gross negligence..." (The Times had reported, accurately, that the board had "moved to revoke Kipper's license.") Crucial distinction. After Kipper sued, the Post reporter testified that his newspaper's practice was to change the lede "to make it more Post-like...less boring than the Los Angeles Times." Gong! The New York judge ruled for Kipper.
Times editor Jim O'Shea sent out a staff note today, gloating a bit and passing along the comments of the Times' lawyer.
From: OShea, James
Sent: Wednesday, June 06, 2007 4:26 PM
Subject: FW: Recent NY decision
I think everyone should take a look at the note from Karlene to me. It is not often that a court endorses the kind of careful reporting and editing we do around here. It is also a good object lesson for the NY Post.
The note from lawyer Karlene Goller praises the smackdown of Post-style hyping and warns that the ruling is "sobering in light of suggestions here lately to eliminate or reduce editing on the web and in print and to make editorial copy more sensational." Her email to O'Shea follows:
From: Goller, Karlene
Sent: Wednesday, June 06, 2007 2:37 PM
To: OShea, James
Subject: Recent NY decision
The recent decision out of NY summarized and linked to below is really a fun read for us.
A couple of years ago the NY Post ripped off (truncated incorrectly) Chuck Philips's carefully reported story about Dr. Kipper, a follow to Chuck and Mike Hiltzik's Pulitzer Prize winning stories about the detox/rehab business Kipper ran for stars at the BH Peninsula Hotel. Kipper sued The NY Post for libel.
In our article we carefully chose our words and deliberately attributed to government records and proceedings, making the story about Kipper a privileged publication, not to mention totally accurate -- unlike the Post's. In denying the NY Post's motion, the court archly points to the NY Post's testimony that "in rewriting articles from wire services New York Post reporters mostly shorten them, and change the lead paragraph 'to make it more Post-like,' that is, 'less boring than the Los Angeles Times.'" The footnotes are particularly pleasing acknowledgements of the Los Angeles Times' superior journalism, too.
But the court's intolerance of "Post-like" shortcuts and its unwillingness to excuse modifications of wire stories as merely "dropping words" are sobering in light of suggestions here lately to eliminate or reduce editing on the web and in print and to make editorial copy more sensational. The decision is also a reminder that we are lucky to have our retraction statute and anti-SLAPP statute here in California -- statutes, along with the official privilege statute, that we nurture and protect through our legislative work with CNPA and our participation in amicus briefs in cases that concern the application of the statutes. We obtain great value in taking full advantage of the statutes through careful reporting and editing and legal vetting.
Here's the decision.