The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today bridged the divide between traditional journalists and bloggers, during a defamation lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought by an Oregon bankruptcy trustee in 2011 against blogger Crystal Cox for blogging that the court-appointed trustee criminally mishandled a bankruptcy case.
Two years ago Cox was denied First Amendment protection, which was until now reserved exclusively for traditional journalists, and as a result she lost the trial leaving the jury to award Obsidian $2.5 million in damages. Although if Cox had been originally granted First Amendment protection back in 2011, Obsidan would have had to provide detailed evidence proving that Cox was negligent and/or that she was acting with “actual malice” to be able to claim damages.
However, today the appeals court has ruled that it doesn’t make any difference if a case is brought against a traditional journalist affiliated with a traditional publication or a everyday blogger, in the matter of First Amendment protection.
Judge Marco Hernandez wrote “The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable. In defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and the public importance of the statement at issue — not the identity of the speaker — provide the First Amendment touchstones.”
The judge then continued and said that the post did fall within the category of public concern, so the case has been scheduled for a new trial that will focus on whether Cox’s reporting was in fact negligent.
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James Rush is the Founding, News & Chief Editor of TFM.