First amendment protected free speech or defamation?
Monday and Tuesday this week on KSCO Presents, I covered the story out of Carmel, CA that made international headlines, such as The Daily Mail from the U.K., “Outrage as newspaper brands lingerie models ‘sluts’ in protest at them staging a fashion show in affluent California town.” A tequila and lingerie modeling party at Vesuvio’s restaurant to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament has caused a major ruckus.
The publisher of The Carmel Pine Cone, Paul Miller, kindly joined me on the air Monday to discuss the article his writer, Mary Schley, wrote titled, “Hardy: Vesuvio tequila party ‘disgusting’ and ‘appalling’” His claims regarding the headline, the jump line, and photograph, as being First Amendment and California SLAPP statute protected speech are now being challenged.
I had requested both the citizen, Carolyn Hardy, and the owner of Racey Promotions, Amber Phillips, to join me on the air to present their sides of the story.
I never did hear back from Carolyn Hardy, but Amber Phillips and I had a nice conversation about her joining me on-air. She did notify me that she needed to check with her attorneys first. About 30 minutes before showtime, I received an email from Amber that she and her model would not be able to discuss the topic at that time.
On the show, I voiced my disappointment that her attorneys blocked her appearance. Are lawyers always such a bummer? After berating her attorneys over the airwaves and the fact that maybe I should go to law school after nailing the LSAT, I received a message from Amber that she could join me another day.
Today, Wednesday, I received word that Amber’s attorneys were trying to get in touch with me. Not waiting, I immediately called Lindsey Savage, Associate Attorney at Parravano Witten PC. She stated that they had a statement to issue and would send it via e-mail.
Well here it is for all of you to catch up on the other side’s argument. Do you think the attorneys are right claiming damage or is The Carmel Pine Cone publisher Paul Miller within his rights as a media outlet?
Following is the statement in its entirety:
For Immediate Release
February 13, 2013
PARRAVANO WITTEN LAW FIRM RESPONDS ON BEHALF OF YOUNG WOMEN DEFAMED IN ‘THE CARMEL PINE CONE’
Sexist Comments and Reckless Journalism Smacks of Libel
Carmel, CA – Attorney Jeannette Witten of Parravano Witten PC is speaking on behalf of several young women from California’s Central Coast. The young women, most of whom are full time students, became newsworthy after a free weekly newspaper plastered a photograph of them on its front page, with a caption below their photograph labeling them “whores and sluts,” and a jump caption, ‘See “SLUTS” page 23A’ directly above their photograph.
The photograph and offensive labeling was splashed on the front page of the February 8-13, 2013 issue of “The Carmel Pine Cone.” The story, “Hardy: Vesuvio tequila party ‘disgusting’ and ‘appalling’” included references to the young women as “whores and sluts.” Although the jump word for every front page article in the issue included a word pulled from the relating headline, the paper instead chose to use the offensive jump word, “SLUTS” for this story.
The offending Pine Cone story purported to report on a “brouhaha” instigated by Carmel resident Carolyn Hardy. Hardy reportedly took issue with a private party taking place at Vesuvio’s restaurant, in Carmel. The party, a fundraiser for victims of hurricane Sandy, was promoted in part by Racey Promotions, a local promotional company. Hardy reportedly pulled multiple photographs of young women from the Facebook page of Racey Promotions and emailed the photos of the women, with the subject, “This is Disgusting” to various individuals. The Pine Cone then chose to publish the photograph Hardy provided, along with parts of Hardy’s letter, without confirming who the women were or whether any of them actually attended or promoted the party. Further, the Pine Cone did not obtain permission from the owner of the photograph before running it.
“If the Pine Cone or Hardy had bothered to find out anything at all about these women, they would have found intelligent, kind, caring, beautiful young women who believe in giving back to their community. They would have found daughters, sisters, mothers, students and young professionals. They would have found women who promote and organize charity events, fundraisers, beach cleanups, food drives,” said Witten.
The Pine Cone could have posted the letter from Hardy to the City Council as an open letter. The Pine Cone could have investigated into the details behind the photograph or contacted the women for a response. The Pine Cone could have reached out to the owner of the photo, to request permission to use the image. Instead, the Pine Cone chose to abandon industry standards involving fact-checking and clearances and sensationalized the letter, generating a front page news story where none existed.
The law surrounding this issue balances two important concerns. The Pine Cone and Hardy have a right to engage in free speech; but the young women in the photo also have rights. They have the right to be free from untrue attacks on their reputation. They have the right to express themselves through clothing and photography. Hardy’s references to these young women as “whores and sluts,” went too far. And when the Pine Cone placed a defamatory and offensive word directly above a photo of these young women, it too crossed a line.
The impact of the presentation of Hardy’s words in the Pine Cone is severe and offensive. The juxtaposition of the jump word and the photograph of the young women is such that unification of the word and the photograph is inevitable and unavoidable. The decision of the Pine Cone to publish their report in this manner exposed the young women to ridicule, shame and embarrassment. No woman should be subjected to this type of attack on her reputation whether wearing an evening gown or a bathing suit.
The Pine Cone must be held accountable for its recklessness. The paper’s actions have adversely impacted the lives of these young women living, learning and volunteering in our community. The Pine Cone went too far, stampeding the tenets of protected free speech and recklessly trampling these women’s rights to privacy and freedom from unfair and unwarranted attacks on their reputation.