An old college textbook I have kicking around refers to truth as the “glorious defense” in libel suits. If so, Brian Hornback is going for the glory.
The conservative blogger produced four affidavits this week from Republicans swearing that Knox County GOP Chair Ruthie Kuhlman really did say disparaging things about some of her fellow Republicans.
Hornback had accused Kuhlman on his blog of doing this dissing, and she responded by suing him for libel, seeking $100,000 in compensation for emotional distress.
The lawsuit was a long shot from the start. Kuhlman had acknowledged right off the bat that she was a public figure, meaning the suit would be judged by the standards of the New York Times v. Sullivan decision.
In 1960, that newspaper published an ad signed by civil rights advocates raising money to defend Martin Luther King Jr. The ad accused Alabama authorities of a “wave of terror,” and a few facts were misstated, such as the number of times King had been arrested. Montgomery Commissioner L.B. Sullivan sued for libel and won a $500,000 verdict in Alabama.
But in March 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict on First Amendment grounds, and Justice William Brennan drafted the landmark decision. It stated that, even if falsehoods were published about public figures, they could not recover damages unless they could also prove “actual malice.” In other words, officials had to show that a publisher knew a statement was false before publication, or acted with “reckless disregard” for its truth or falsity.
That standard makes it very hard for public figures to ever win libel actions. But if Hornback can convince the judge that the statements he made were true, then it doesn’t matter whether Kuhlman is a public figure or not. Truth is an absolute defense against libel in America, even if the truth hurts.
Here’s an above-the-fold view of the extra edition The Knoxville News-Sentinel produced the afternoon President Kennedy was shot.
The bulletin from UPI was plugged into the right-hand columns and the headline replaced. Otherwise, the page was left as it had been for the regular edition of the paper, which was then published in the afternoon.
Note that an earlier story on the Dallas visit remained on the page along with news of the previous day’s city election.
With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Sanders arriving next week, we’ve posted a 14-minute, Ken Burns-style documentary produced by Erin Chapin of our digital team. Erin is a talented videographer who did much of the work on our earlier long-form videos that were honored with national Edward R. Murrow Awards.
Union officers Orville Babcock, left, and Orlando Poe pose for photographer George Barnard at the Fort Sanders battlefield a few months after the fight.
Many staff members were involved in creating this new documentary. Reporter Matt Lakin, a dedicated re-enactor, participated in the re-enactment that provided much of the footage for the piece, and he makes a cameo appearance as a dead soldier. Sports writer Mike Strange is the project’s narrator.
Artist/designer Don Wood, outdoor writer Morgan Simmons, and his wife, Ruth, recorded the background music using Civil War sheet music downloaded from the Library of Congress.
“We wanted a mix of music that was popular with the Union and Confederate troops,” said Chapin, “so I downloaded five songs from the Civil War Sheet Music Collection and sent them to Morgan. He and Ruth studied the music and practiced for a few days. Morgan switched between the banjo and guitar, depending on what the song required. Ruth played the fiddle. Don played the mandolin.
“I recorded the songs in Morgan and Ruth’s living room on Monday, Nov. 4, with a Zoom H4N audio recorder and a video camera as backup. During the recording of “Yellow Rose of Texas,” I had to have Ruth put a pillow under her foot because she was so involved with the tune that her foot stomping was picked up by the microphones.”
We’re now looking for ways to make the music available as separate digital downloads.
Mike Miller, son of former Knoxville News Sentinel Editor Loye Miller, passed this photo onto me. It is of Tennessee editors and publishers meeting with President John F. Kennedy on Feb. 28, 1963.
To the right of the president is John M. Jones Sr. of the Greeneville Sun, and to the left is Eleanor L. Sheets of the Rogersville Review. Miller is third to the left of the president, smoking a cigar.
Stacks of advertising fliers await inserting in the News Sentinel’s packaging center.
Holiday advertising inserts are stacking up in the News Sentinel’s packaging center these days. Inserting them into the paper is the production challenge of the season.
We’ll have early deadlines some nights when the insert load is particularly heavy. But early deadlines will be battling with late football games. Both the Vanderbilt and Kentucky games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m., and our Operations Department will be faced with assembling huge Sunday papers as soon as the games are over.
Our production team is very capable, though, and our equipment is still state-of-the-art. But it’s a busy time, especially when you consider that in additional to the News Sentinel, we are printing four other daily newspapers: The Oak Ridger, Maryville’s Daily Times, the Daily Beacon for UT and the daily features section of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which is replacing its presses and contracting with us to help out during the transition.
Lisa Hood Skinner helps Walter Pulliam open a present — The Autobiography of Mark Twain.
Clipping from a 1946 News-Sentinel article by Walter Pulliam accompanied by an editorial cartoon.
The East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists held a luncheon at the Orangery today to celebrate Walter Pulliam’s 100th birthday.
The longtime journalist — Washington Post, Stars & Stripes and several East Tennessee newspapers — regaled the gathering of about 20 with stories from his much-storied career.
Pulliam passed around clippings of articles he wrote for the News-Sentinel (back when it had a hyphen in its name) and remembered fondly the fierce competition and the willingness of newspapers to “take a stand” in those days.
His cake was decorated as a front page proclaiming his birthday as the news of the day.
Pulliam actually turned 100 on Tuesday, when the News Sentinel (now without a hyphen) published a front page story about him by Matt Lakin.
Dr. Rex Morgan
Yikes! Who knew “Rex Morgan M.D.” still had so many faithful followers?
We’ve found out the past two days at the News Sentinel as fans of the strip have besieged the newspaper with irate phone calls and emails after we discontinued the comic on Monday. I’m sure the snail mail is on the way, too, but hasn’t hit yet.
I thought Rex’s day had passed and replaced him with a brand-new hip strip called “WuMo.” What a mistake! I admit it. Mea culpa. Please don’t call any more. We’re putting the Doc back. Rex will be resurrected in tomorrow’s paper. We’re still keeping “WuMo,” though. It’s a completely different style of comic strip, and a completely different group of readers will appreciate it.
Deborah Fisher, former senior editor at the Nashville Tennessean, will be the new director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. TCOG is a non-profit organized to fight for transparency in government and to educate Tennesseans about its importance.
Deb had been at the Tennessean for the past decade but got caught in the most recent round of layoffs. Before that, she’d been with the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the News Sentinel, serving as editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She’s a graduate of Baylor University.
Her selection was announced today to members of the TCOG board. She has a real passion for watchdog journalism and will do a great job.