Brian Ross, chief investigative correspondent of ABC News, is moderator of a panel called “Sue me: dealing with the threat of legal action,” that will be held Friday at 9:40 a.m. at the annual conference of the Investigative Reporters & Editors at the Boston Marriott Copley Place.
Keynote speaker the next day is Jill Abramson, executive editor, New York Times. The conference, which expects 1,000 attendees, is hosted by the Boston Globe, owned by NYT since 1993. NYT had threatened to sell the paper in 2009 after workers refused $20 million in cuts but a settlement was reached.
The threat of legal action is a subject dear to my heart since the PR Society levels a barrage of such threats and concepts not only at me but members and because the O’Dwyer Co. got sued for $21 million in 1994.
Last year PRS gave the legal opinion that it had the right to cancel the 2012 in-person Assembly if the 2011 Assembly did not pass a dues increase.
Delegates including Mark McClennan howled but to no avail.
Legal threats to me include charges of harassment for asking leaders and members questions; “hacking” into PRS teleconferences, and violating anti-SPAM laws by e-mailing Society leaders. There was no need for me to “hack” into the teleconferences since members covered them for the O’Dwyer Co. The teleconferences should be open to anyone in listen-only mode.
PRS lawyer Jeffrey Tenenbaum of Venable, D.C., e-mailed a long lecture to me in 2005 to the effect that PRS is a “private” entity, the inference being that it is under no legal obligation to deal with me. I had criticized PRS for not revealing its IRS Form 990 until late in the year. His answer was that non-profits often seek extensions and that PRS obeys the law.
It’s ironic that the Saturday keynote speaker is Abramson of NYT, which torched the O’Dwyer Co. twice on the subject of the Rotbart speech after I had given NYT copious material on what he had said to the 1993 PRS conference in Orlando. NYT was so excited by the story that it sent a photographer to Rotbart’s home and devoted a third of a page to it.
However, the story had errors and false charges that became key parts of the lawsuit that was waged -- that I had sneaked into (“slipped into”) the talk; that I had made a “secret” recording of it; that I published a “transcript” of the talk, and that Rotbart was an “archenemy” and “rival” of mine.
The Rotbart business, specializing in reporting on the business press and including the newsletter TJFR Business News Reporter interfaced only slightly with O’Dwyer products that covered PR firms, corporate PR, suppliers to PR, about 15 PR and journalist groups, ad/PR conglomerates, and the general press and trades in 12 categories including tech, healthcare, food, travel and sports.
NYT, after an initial love affair with the story, spurned it, ignoring both the lawsuit and the landmark O’Dwyer legal victory. Numerous other media covered it, including the New York Law Journal, New York Post and American Journalism Review.
ABC Legal Head Is Panelist
Also on the legal panel is John Zucker, senior VP, law & regulation, ABC, Inc., heading lawyers who work with ABC News, abcnews.com, and the ABC owned TV stations; Andy Siegel, VP and assistant general counsel, CBS, and Steve Chung, a lawyer for NBCUniversal. He is the lead lawyer for the NBC Owned TV group and the “Today Show” and supervises legal production work for syndicated talk shows such as the “Jerry Springer Show” and the “Maury Povich Show.”
Ross is described by ABC as “one of the most honored and respected journalists in the country.” He reports for the “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Nightline,” “Good Morning America,” and “20/20,” as well as for ABC News Radio and “The Blotter” on abcnews.com.
He has exposed corruption at all levels of government, led to changes in domestic laws and prompted reforms abroad, says his bio.
Zucker is a summa cum laude graduate of Yale College, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, and graduate of the Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. He has taught a media law seminar at the Columbia J School since 2001. Prior to that he taught “The Media and the First Amendment” seminar for seven years at Yale College. He also speaks at journalism and law classes at NYU, CCNY, Fordham, Georgetown and University of Virginia.
-IRE Based on Journalist “Outrage”
IRE, founded in 1975 and is located at the University of Missouri, got its name because “what most characterizes the investigative reporter is a sense of outrage.” Members have included journalists at the NYT, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and wire services and syndicated columnists such as Jack Anderson and Les Whitten plus Pulitzer-Prize winners.
Income for the year ended June 30, 2010 was $1,739,536 vs. expenses of $1,332,411 for a net of $407,125. Cash/savings were $665,103 and investments $3,245,273 for a total of $3,910,376. EIN is 51-0166741.
What attracted me to IRE is its concern with the “rights” of individual reporters. A reporter working on his or her own has just as much “right” to fair treatment as a large journalistic organization.
I don’t think IRE would approve of a guard blocking me from entering the exhibit hall of PRS at its 2011 conference especially when one of the exhibitors, MyMediaInfo, wanted me to visit its booth and do a story.
“We are always looking for new stories,” it says, adding: “Do you have the next big one?”
The following has been placed in the answer box provided and has also been sent to Zucker and Chung.
Congratulations for being on a panel about journalists threatened with legal action.
This is Jack O'Dwyer, New York reporter who was sued for $21 million in 1994 on copyright and other charges. I won the suit but it cost me nearly $100,000. The speech I covered was given at the PR Society of America 1993 conference. Currently I am under formal boycott by PRSA because of close coverage of the group.
Guards, for the first time in 40 years of covering this group, blocked me from every session in the four-day 2011 conference including the exhibit hall and legislative Assembly.
I am interested in your advice to reporters who are constantly threatened with legal action.
I gave the NY Times my coverage of the Dean Rotbart speech and NYT did a third of a page on it, sending a reporter to Rotbart's home for a picture. The story falsely accused me of sneaking into the session ("slipped in"), of "secretly" making a tape of the speech (there was no need for secrecy), of printing a transcript of the speech (false) and that Rotbart and I were "archenemies." We barely competed at all.
I hope you can give me some advice on this. The National Press Club not only condemned the boycott but sent its statement on Oct. 20, 2011 to 390 major media. PRSA has ignored this and I face being barred at this year's conference in S.F. in October. Here is the NPC statement: http://bit.ly.com/p0jJuj