Media Malice Toward and Lies About Animal Owners

“In many other common law countries, strict liability for defamation is still the rule.”  When news reports spread round the world via the internet, many reading them consider them accurate because reporters in their own nations are careful to be truthful due to this general rule and some amount of governmental oversight along with severe penalties for lying.  Not so in the US.  Here, the media is rarely held to a truthful standard anymore as it would require private citizens to sue them to correct their behavior; there is no governmental oversight at all and the media will be well and fully represented; unlike the average citizen or resident.  The result is that every 20 years or so, the media goes on a lying bender until someone gets the gumption and resources to sue them and remind them that their right of free speech is primarily a right to TRUTHFUL free speech; that they may not even recklessly disregard the truth.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan "The plaintiff alleges that this criticism of him and of his work was not fair and was not honest; it was published with actual malice, ill will and spite. If he establishes this allegation, he has made out a cause of action. No comment or criticism, otherwise libelous, is fair or just comment on a matter of public interest if it be made through actual ill will and malice."  The Supreme Court defined “actual malice" as "knowledge that the information was false" or that it was published "with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."

I’ve seen multiple lies and misrepresentations by the media in alleged animal abuse cases but I’ll just deal with a simple easy one here to illustrate.

ruling that gave custody of more than 27,000 animals to the city”  That statement in Susan Schrock’s story on the Star-Telegram is not only untrue but impossible and has been reiterated by them on several occasions.  Since they reported (within the last month) that less than 27,000 were seized AND that nearly 4,000 died within less than 2 weeks thereafter, they KNOW it is false.  The court’s order is available at the courthouse and 2 places on-line that I’ve found and it says no such thing.  In fact, I sincerely doubt the judge even knows how many animals were covered by his global award of “all the animals” (although it seems likely to have been well under 20,000 given the SPCA's record for the first 2 weeks).  What is clear is that Schrock and the Star-Telegram published what they clearly know to be false information and not merely published "with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not” but CLEARLY false information.

The US Constitutional protection of free speech in the press is very strong but, with it, comes the responsibility to be accurate and truthful.  Less than that and it may well constitute defamation.  Much of what has been published in the Star-Telegram is clearly intended to shed a false and misleading light on alleged animal abuse cases and this one is no different.  This is clearly intended to do that and to very directly shed a false and misleading light on U.S. Global Exotics while not shedding light on the City of Arlington’s killing of many of these animals and its inability to even keep them alive.  A REAL reporter would be all over the City of Arlington demanding to know how many of these animals have died in the last 3 weeks and pointing out if they or the SPCA of North Texas refused to respond to queries on that topic.

I’m finally of the opinion that the Star-Telegram is a clearly biased opinion rag rather than in the business of reporting news.  But, since they hold themselves out as “news”, then they likely deserve to be sued over the biased and untruthful stories they run about alleged animal abuse cases and for their defamation of the individuals accused.

Sadly, the Star-Telegram is not alone in its reckless disregard for truth and blatant lies about animal owners.  This trend has become all too widespread.  All animal owners need to be aware of the potential for being defamed by the media and learn what the law is on this topic.  Here’s a few more cases of note:

A private figure claiming defamation—your neighbor, your roommate, the guy who walks his dog by your favorite coffee shop—only has to prove you acted negligently, which is to say that a "reasonable person" would not have published the defamatory statement.

Animal Owners: Be prepared to defend yourselves when defamed by the media!

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