Blogger Fined $2.5 Million For Not Being A Journalist

A U.S. District Court judge in Oregon has ruled that a blogger must pay a $2.5 million fine to an investment firm she wrote about, because she isn’t a real journalist.

Specifically, as first reported by Seattle Weekly, Judge Marco A. Hernandez stated that Crystal Cox, who runs several blogs, was not entitled to be protected by Oregon’s media shield law for sources because she wasn’t “affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”

So if Cox worked for “Hustler,” for example, she would have been protected. And what about a journalist who tweets something during her out-of-work hours, or posts a comment on a blog? Is she still protected?

Cox Wrote Several Blogs Critical of The Obsidian Finance Group

The Obsidian Finance Group sued Cox in January for $10 million for writing several blog posts critical of the company and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Obsidian argued that the writing was defamatory. Cox represented herself in court.

The judge threw out all but one of the blog posts cited, focusing on just one that contained a lot of facts. Cox said that was because she was being fed information from an inside source, whom she refused to name.

Without the source, she couldn’t prove the information in the post was true — and thus, according to the judge, she didn’t qualify for Oregon’s media shield law since she wasn’t employed by a media establishment. In the court’s eyes, she was a blogger, not a journalist. And there’s a $2.5 million price to pay for that.

A Different Story Next Door In The State Of Washington

From Seattle Weekly:

Bruce E. H. Johnson, attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine, is a veteran litigator in the field of free speech and media law. In 2006 he drafted Washington state’s media shield legislation, and in 2007 the state legislature passed it into law.

He says that had Cox’s case been heard in a Washington court, the outcome (at least in regards to the shield law) would have most likely been different.

“I believe the shield law would have been applied [in Washington state],” Johnson tells Seattle Weekly. “Oregon’s law was probably written before blogging was accounted for.”

Media shield laws exist in 40 U.S. states and protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources in court.

A Dangerous Precedent

The debate over whether bloggers are “real” journalists or not will undoubtedly continue. But this isn’t a debate about whether bloggers are good enough writers to be called journalists. Presumably if Cox had been paid to blog by a news service, then she would have been protected by Oregon’s law.

It is truly a dangerous precedent to say that any writers, be they bloggers, journalists, or reporters, are only protected if the content they are producing is being paid for by another company. What on earth was Judge Hernandez thinking?

Cox tells Seattle Weekly that she plans to appeal her ruling. I think she should get a lawyer this time around.

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Photo Credit: s_falkow

88 comments

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

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Robby C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Deanna J- and this whole thing reeks of a complete & total disregard for the 1st ammendment to me (like Rolf P said). Good luck collecting, of course. This'll be tied up in courts at taxpayers expense for YYYEEEAAARRRSSS!

Robert H- I agree completely!

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Deanna J.
Deanna J6 years ago

Sounds like a definition problem here to me. We could check with Mr. Webster...

journalist
1. a) a person engaged in journalism; especially : a writer or editor for a news medium
b) a writer who aims at a mass audience
2. a person who keeps a journal

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/journalist

A blog is a collection of "posts" aka articles, that have been written by the author.

I don't know about you, but that sure as hell sounds like a journal to me, which makes the writer a journalist. If the Oregon media shield law includes the word journalist at all, the Electronic Frontier Foundation should be all over this.

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Robert H.
Robert Hamm6 years ago

I will be voting in the primaries in March. Thats when they happen in Texas. And I will vote for a fellow Texan Ron Paul. Take some of the money away from the other two idiots.

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ROLF P.
ROLF P6 years ago

Just another step by the Establishment to infringe on our First Amendment rights. They are becoming more and more afraid of us because they are doing such a fantastic job.

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Robby C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Toby S-

"And you vote has many more times impact in the primary, because of the numbers voting, than it does in the general election."

- Good point!

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Toby Seiler
Past Member 6 years ago

Yes Robby, voting Paul in the primary keeps your options open in the general election... but reduces the "purchasing power" of the 1% by eliminating Gingrich, Romney, Perry and Bachmann. If one waits untill the general election, those choices will already have been made. And you vote has many more times impact in the primary, because of the numbers voting, than it does in the general election.

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Robby C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Toby S- I agree, so I'll say it here (but it's early, so I reserve the right to change mind at least once in the coming months)- Ron Paul in 2012! And I don't care WHAT party he's part of. AAMOFF, IF he wins (& he's not rich enough, nor corrupt enough to be given the money by richer people) then I may even write him a letter, begging him to dissolve party lines altogether... I'll be wasting my time, but then, here it is, after midnight, & I'm posting on Care 2 about politics...LOL!

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Rose Balcom
Rose Balcom6 years ago

What would Judge Hernandez say about comments on Care2?

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Rosemary G.
Rosemary G6 years ago

They would not get a penny for me! That Judge is on bloody drugs, like our members of the Senate and Congress. Just look at the Presidential contenders with the exception of Ron Paul who unfortunately needs a makeover to become pallatable for the majority of the reality shows educated people in this country.

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