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Is this libel?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Mac113, Aug 21, 2009.

  1. Mac113

    Mac113 New Member

    Hi, first-time poster, but I've been reading this site for some time. I'm a high school junior who is thinking about a career in journalism (save the jokes and warnings, I've heard them all by now!). I had a question for all you pros out there.

    One of our local papers (I don't want to use the actual link because I don't want to embarass the reporter or the paper) had an article about a football player from my school whose a friend of mine..... The whole point of the story is that this kid is super strong, and did it without using steroids.... I've never heard or read anyone accuse the kid of using steroids (we're kinda a small school, it's not like we're in the papers a lot), until this story, which was all about how he "says" he's clean. What the hell? I was pissed about it.... It seemed to me that by writing the article, the paper made up an issue that was never there to begin with. If nobody accused him of taking steroids isn't the paper just creating the issue and creating unfair suspicion just so it can shoot it down and make a splashy headline about how he's "questioned?".... It said "despite perhaps what some might think" he's clean. What is that?!?!?! Maybe I'm overreacting or way off base and just some clueless kid, I don't know. I don't know the laws about slander and libel and everything. That's why I'm asking you guys. Is this fair?
  2. TheMethod

    TheMethod Member

    Libel is when you publish something that is:

    1) False


    2) Damaging to someone's reputation.

    Neither is the case, here.

    I'd have to see the story in context to decide if it was fair or not, but, as you described it, it's definitely not libel.
  3. Mac113

    Mac113 New Member

    Okay. But doesn't it damage someone's reputation if you throw out accusations out of the blue like that even if the goal is to shoot them down? It's out there now and wasn't before, y'know?

    (EDIT: Just saw you said it had to be BOTH. Got it. Still sucks if you ask me!)
  4. TheMethod

    TheMethod Member

    I see what you're saying and I understand why you're upset, but libel is a legal term. To call this libel, you'd have to prove, in court, that nobody in the world had ever wondered if this kid used steroids. This, of course, would be impossible.

    Again, without reading the actual story, I don't think I can say whether this was fair or not, but I can definitely imagine a scenario in which a kid got big and strong in a noticeable way and the local paper did a story on it and addressed the steroid issue while giving the kid a chance to deny it. If that's what happened, I don't see any problem with it. And if people read a story like that and that alone is what leads them to believe this guy shot up, then they're morons.

    By the way, do you know for sure this kid is clean?

    Also, I think you should just post the link to the story. I mean, the reporter wrote it and the paper ran it. It's out there. They want people to read it. You're not going to embarrass anybody. I promise.
  5. oldhack

    oldhack Member

    Only way anyone can give you a good answer is by reading sty. Post it.
  6. schiezainc

    schiezainc Well-Known Member

    If the kid got big and strong very rapidly, the reporter should question whether or not he's on the juice. It's his job.

    Asking someone how they got so big so fast is not an attempt at embarrassing them, it's an attempt at finding out the truth.

    Because, believe me, if the change was as fast as you're making it seem, people in this guy's life (maybe not his close family but definitely his friends and people he casually knows) are wondering about it.

    Asking the question is the right thing to do and, honestly, from the way you're describing it, it actually gives the athlete a chance to address any concerns before they even get raised.

    It'd be like if a football player is a top-tier college recruit and is getting calls from all the major schools. One summer, he's working at Burger King and driving a crap car. The next, he's not working but has a brand new ride and all new clothes.

    Sure, maybe nobody really thinks he took money from the schools. But, as a journalist, you have to get the facts and find out.
  7. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    But if Mac is presenting the story accurately, I agree that it would be wrong to write about a kid and make a big issue about him never using steroids despite what others think.

    If the story is about how he got a lot bigger and stronger in a year, I could see a good story talking about how he did it (specifics on diet, training and any supplements) and then have him talk about people whispering or wondering about steroid use.

    I think its more than fair to bring up in a story like that but the whole story shouldn't be framed around it.

    But, no, it does not sound like libel.
  8. EE94

    EE94 Guest

    There might, however, be a possible case for malice.

    The line: "despite perhaps what some might think" could be an opening for a lawyer to question the reporter's intent, particularly because there is no evidence of anyone thinking that other than the reporter's suggestion.
    So is the reporter suggesting he's on steroids? Did the reporter do the story because he thinks the kid is on steroids and by merely mentioning the topic imply guilt?
    I'm not saying the case is cut and dried, but I think our high schooler is right to question the reporter's motives.
  9. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    Did the kid himself bring it up?
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Again, not having seen the story, I can't believe it would be malice if he brings it up in the way described and the player responds that he doesn't take roids and never has. It would be a natural assumption/accusation for anyone. It would be like writing a story about someone in a horrific wreck and saying despite rumors he hadn't been drinking.

    Sounds from what we know that it was just an awkwardly written story.

    I can certainly see a writer going into a story about this kid's dramatic change. And the natural question is did he use steroids? There are two problems with that kind of story:

    1. Addressing it in a generally positive story without accusing the kid when you have no proof. 2. Writing that he is completely clean when you don't really know that.

    I recall an SI cover story a few years ago on golden boy lineman Tony Mandarich and his crazy caffeine-fueled workouts and how he never used steroids. ::)
  11. Big Circus

    Big Circus Well-Known Member

    Mac, for further reading on this, you may want to do a search for Raul Ibanez threads on here. I don't remember how the conversation went, but that whole deal was basically a shouty, national version of what you're talking about (at least how I'm reading it.)
  12. Mac113

    Mac113 New Member

    EE94: That seems closest. I guess libel is a bit extreme, as you guys have said. It just seemed kinda dickish, more than anything, I guess. :)

    RickStain: Not as far as I know. Just bothered me, is all.

    I've cooled down a bit since I read it yesterday. I think Ace got it right when he said it was just awkwardly written. The kid's not huge at all, maybe 6 feet, maybe 210 pounds. He's just really strong. We've got a lot of farmboys out here -- chores make you strong!!!

    Thanks for the discussion, guys. It still bothers me, but I think I might have overreacted a little.
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