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First Amendment wins in bloggers dispute

Once upon a time a reporter-blogger blogged trash about an ex-friend. So the ex-friend created an anonymous blog and blogged trash back. The reporter-blogger said the ex-friend-blogger's trash was trashier than her trash -- vewy scarewy!-- and asked the court for a temporary restraining order against the new trash.

Wah, wah, wah. Cry, cry, cry.

This horseradish actually took up hours in Shasta Superior Court today and countless hours of anxiety and preparation on both sides, and would have been roundly ignored as sandbox karma except for one minor detail: The court correctly pointed out to the reporter-blogger the "big, fat First Amendment staring you right in the face."

Commissioner Gary Gibson did the only right thing today when he took the case seriously but in the end denied the reporter-blogger's request for a restraining order.

He said the ex-friend-blogger's comments and criticism were opinion, and as such, were protected by the First Amendment. Game over.

He cautioned the ex-friend-blogger, too, reminding her that there are certain legal exceptions to free speech, including defamatory comments. "You're walking a very fine line," he said. He scolded both bloggers for behaving childishly, and declined to make the reporter-blogger pay the friend-blogger's attorney fees, saying she rather brought the case on herself.

We can roll our eyes and call it a tempest in a toilet bowl that shouldn't have wasted public money, but there was that serious free-speech component that needed to be lifted out and disinfected.

Internet publishing has created new concerns about privacy and harassment. It has also ended the days of mainstream media being the gatekeeper of what gets published and what doesn't. Today's ruling was a small but not insignificant confirmation of a standing principle of free speech.

There were other issues in this case -- about the rules of friendship, the line between journalism and opinion, how to mind one's manners in public, the possible violation of a Web site's privacy policy, and trash-blogging on company equipment.

But I was interested chiefly in whether the court would treat it as a catfight or take it seriously on the First Amendment angle. (The names are immaterial to that, so if you want the putrid particulars, Google "Lochrie Norby." You'll get an eyeful about fat chicks, journalism, cameltoes, backstabbing, lying, bad fashion and media interference. It Goes On and On.)

Gibson handled the matter seriously and smoothly. He was the voice of reason and patience.

People bitch about having to suffer through anonymous Internet writing, but the fact is, nobody's holding a gun to their heads and making them read it. If we don't like what someone writes, we can read something else. Or we're free to say something back. Thank God, in this country, a dissenting opinion -- even a snotty, childish or unreasonable one -- is allowed to be heard. Even online. Even anonymously. Just because some people misbehave is no reason to ruin the system for everyone. You don't burn down the house to get rid of the mice.

The attorney today rightly pointed out that blogs are intended to be interactive and conversational. They're meant to invite comment and criticism, and in fact, they live or die by commotion. Controversy drives traffic. Disagreement is the air that controversy breathes, and rarely is the disagreement respectful. It's often downright trashy. It's the nature of the beast.

"We do have this animal now we call blogging, and we're going to have to live with it," Gibson said in summing up.

True. The gallery held 13 observers, including a reporter, a photographer and two journalist bloggers. We're everywhere. And we don't work just for newspapers anymore.

6 comments:

  1. What a wonderful synopsis, Kelly. I'm glad it turned out the way it did.

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  2. Thank you Kelly for giving us an update on this issue. I love your blog! Michelle

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  3. Hi Kelly - Nice piece! Thank you for covering this trial today. But, as you know, I am a person who likes to correct the record when the record pertains to me personally. ;-) So, for the record, I would like to say that your statement that this issue took up "countless hours of anxiety and preparation on both sides" is an inaccurate depiction of my side of this story. I did not do any preparation for this court date today; however, I did pay an attorney's fee. In addition, there was no anxiety on my part about this case. My attorney and I were very confident that my blogging rights were protected under free speech; as was found to be the case today. Had we lost in court today, we would have appealed the decision. Thus, again, no anxiety on my part other than a strong belief that this was all a complete waste of everyone's time and the taxpayer's dime. However, I am not the person who brought this matter before the court; I am strictly defending my constitutional rights to free speech. And I hope I made some of you laugh along the way! ;-) Over and out. - Large Marge No Longer At Large

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  4. OK, Miss Marge, I stand corrected about the anxiety level and prep time. Thank you for setting the record straight. (Maybe it was your attorney I was thinking of.) But - any road - I'm glad for the free-speech defense and believed in it fully, and it's healthy that everyone got to have their say and can move on. Today's a brand new day.

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  5. Hi Kelly - Yes, in deedy! Today is a brand new day! Yahoo! And based on the horrible picture of myself in the newspaper today, I've decided to join forces with Kirstie Alley and we'll be launching our new dieting empire called "Eat Dessert First" and a new cookbook called "Cookin' with Marge."

    Seriously, Kirstie Alley is no longer with Jenny Craig, so I think the time is ripe, so to speak: http://allieiswired.com/archives/2008/02/kirstie-alley-quits-jenny-craig/

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  6. hear, hear...
    I enjoy your opinions even more these days. I still love one of your first controversial comments about "pinch their heads off" even after all these years.

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