Dear Swami, what’s the deal with all insults between politicians and publisher Elroy Reed in North Chicago? And even Waukegan Township trustee Patricia Jones is suing Reed. Whadup, oh wise one? Signed, Nebulous of North Chicago.
Here’s what Swami knows about suing for libel.
Let’s say you’re Elroy Reed, publisher of “The People’s Voice” which serves the county’s black community.
And let’s say you detest the state representative serving the area. Detest him real good. Hate his guts and aren’t afraid to say it (while taking ads and running big endorsements for his opponent).
And let’s say you suggest that State Rep Eddie Washington might be guilty of mismanaging public funds, stealing from an employer, sexually assaulting a woman and WORST OF ALL, being a Muslim in sheep’s clothing who won’t give us advertising.
And let’s say you insinuate he’s colluding with the local township official to extort favorable editorial treatment in your publication.
Them is fightin’ words, podnuh, even for a low-rent vanity publication that produces pay-as-you-go journalism.
The standard for proving libel is much higher for public officials than your average Swami or Swamette.. Willful and knowing disregard for the truth is the legal definition of “Malice” when it comes to insulting public officials. That means you published a lie and didn’t even try to find out if it was true. Or you published a lie and knew it was a lie.
If you published a lie, tried to find out if it was true but were led astray, you might get off the hook.
But you have to make a passing effort at finding out the facts.
Even though Swami is generally in favor of insulting and rhetorically assaulting lousy public officials whenever and wherever possible, here’s sort of the basic ground rule when it comes to escaping legal landmines. You can call a public offical stupid, lazy and say his face looks like the south end of a northbound mule. Those are just expressions of personal taste and observation.
But you can't say he's a thief without being able to prove it.
It helps to know the facts and be able to fork over evidence. Unfortunately, Reed didn't offer any particular evidence in his massive tome. He just said Washington was a lying skunk. End of story.
Of course, being right really helps.
But we’d almost bet that Reed didn’t run any his incendiary prose past a real lawyer because the legal eagle would have demanded to see evidence.
Townshipper Patricia Jones has sued for $250,000 and claimed defamation.
Washington hasn’t filed a civil lawsuit yet against Reed (wonder why not?), but if Reed doesn’t have the ammunition to prove his case, he might have to turn over the keys to his publishing house to the representative.
Buckle up, Betty, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.