Reporting on Connecticut Landmarks crossed legal line into malice

I am a trustee of the Connecticut Landmarks Society. The board of trustees is considering a defamation lawsuit against Day columnist  David Collins and Day Publisher Gary Farrugia in response to Collins' malicious and inaccurate depiction of Connecticut Landmarks during the period Feb. 6-12. The lawsuit would seek to hold Collins and Farrugia personally liable for the reputational and financial damage they have inflicted on the organization. 

What Connecticut Landmarks won't sue over

Before I describe the specific statements Collins has written, and the Day has published, which would be the basis for possible legal action by Landmarks, let me be clear about what the organization would not attempt to stop.

Connecticut Landmarks understands and applauds the broad sweep of the First Amendment, which offers extensive legal protection to journalists covering public affairs. This protection is available to journalism of the highest caliber as well as to unfair reporting written in bad faith for the purpose of inflaming community emotions. Protecting the latter is vital to giving ample breathing space to the former. Thus, when Collins gets his facts wrong, cites biased sources as gospel, or includes irrelevant facts solely in order to smear a target, he is a constitutionally protected actor. Landmarks celebrates this insulation.

What Landmarks might sue over

But this constitutional protection is not absolute. In the landmark case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), the Supreme Court held that a newspaper is not protected for statements made with actual malice, that is, where the publisher knew the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity. This is the extremely high burden of proof Connecticut Landmarks must meet if it and its trustees are viewed as public figures.

But even if Landmarks has to meet an actual malice standard, the board believes it can succeed under such a test because Collins has written, and the Day has published, the following:

“It looks like Connecticut Landmarks just wanted to be left alone, to keep sipping money from the Forge Farm endowment.” (Feb. 6)

“Is it possible that a storied nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation has been intentionally ruining a historic house in Stonington in order to be able to pocket the endowment?” (Feb. 12)

The Day’s webpage and Wikipedia site list the many prestigious journalism awards the newspaper has received. Is Collins’ current standard of reporting really worthy of such outstanding past achievement?

I am requesting that my letter, which has been reviewed by a half dozen other Landmarks board members, be published in The Day as a guest commentary.

Dial Parrott lives in Glastonbury.

 

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