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Policy: Law

Federal appeals court rules bloggers are real reporters under the First Amendment

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Appeals Courts,First Amendment,Media,Law,Federal Courts

Remember when Juan Williams told Michelle Malkin that he was a "real reporter," not just a "blogger"? Well, one of the most liberal federal courts in the country says that's a distinction without a difference under the First Amendment.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision Friday recognizing bloggers as journalists under the First Amendment came about in a defamation lawsuit.

"The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others' writings, or tried to get both sides of a story," the court ruled in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox.

Obsidian had filed a lawsuit against Crystal Cox over accusations against the company that she had published on the Internet. Cox countered that the First Amendment protects such speech because the topic was of public interest and the people she wrote about were public figures, but a lower court judge rejected those defenses on the theory that Cox had not proven — nor had provided — "evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist."

The Ninth Circuit rejected that reasoning. "In defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and the public importance of the statement at issue — not the identity of the speaker — provide the First Amendment touchstones," Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote in the opinion.

UCLA law professor and First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh, who argued the case, noted the limits of the ruling. "[T]he court’s reasoning is limited to First Amendment protections; it doesn’t discuss state or federal statutes that provide extra protection to the 'media' or to other subsets of speakers," he said on his blog, the Volokh Conspiracy.

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