Is Quoting Someone Out Of Context Defamation?

from the in-the-9th-circuit... dept

Earlier this year, there was certainly plenty of discussion in the political news business of the Shirley Sherrod incident, where Andrew Breitbart posted a video of Sherrod speaking, which implied she had made certain decisions on the basis of skin color. However, after Sherrod was fired from her job at the USDA, it quickly came out that the video clips of Sherrod speaking were taken totally out of context, and the message of the speech was completely the opposite of what had been implied. This quickly resulted in a scramble as pretty much every publication in the world covering the story wrote articles questioning whether or not she had a legitimate case of libel.

Of course, as with any highly politically charged legal discussion, it often appeared that those picking a side over whether or not she had a case might have been somewhat influenced by their political views on the matter. However, much of the discussion focused on what Breitbart said separately in relation to the video, rather than the video itself. Still, a recent case may bring the video back into discussion.

Michael Scott points us to the news of a recent ruling against newscaster John Stossel for allegedly posting video that was apparently taken out of context, and while a lower court protected him via California's anti-SLAPP law, an appeals court has ruled that the defamation case can move forward over the video. It doesn't mean that the defamation claim will necessarily stand, but the video edit and context apparently is seen as grounds for a potential defamation claim:
Of course, Breitbart claims he didn't edit the video in the Sherrod case, which then raises other legal questions about whether or not he's protected himself on the video part, and whether or not he can use journalist shield laws to protect the "source" who provided him the video. All in all, while I can understand the desire to push a libel case in such situations, I do wonder if it actually results in much good. At this point, it's difficult to find anyone who isn't familiar with the "full story" of what happened with the out-of-context video, so it's not about "correcting" false info that's out there. Still, this latest ruling is a reminder that if you happen to quote someone out of context, you may risk a defamation claim.
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Filed Under: andrew breitbart, defamation, editing, john stossel, shirley sherrod, video

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  1. icon
    Christopher (profile), 23 Sep 2010 @ 3:20pm


    I was going to take the opposite viewpoint to this, but then I remembered the numerous times someone on the internet has taken my statements out of context and made people think I was saying one thing when I was really saying another, so I have to agree that this should be slander.

    Whenever someone's statements are being given, it should be THE WHOLE STATEMENT IN QUESTION!

    For goodness sakes, you can make someone look like they support rapists by taking their comments out of context, when if you had the ENTIRE statement, you would see that they were saying that we have extended the definition of 'rapist' out too far in their opinion.

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