Friday, May 13, 2011

CPJ Accusation #4 Against Italian Justice Officials: Mr Mignini Sues For Defamation Without Cause?

Posted by Kermit


Overview. In our Second Open Letter to Joel Simon and world leaders we noted that NOT ONE of the accusations against Italian officials on close examination stands up. This is Attachment Four to that letter. More investigative posts are to come. 

CPJ Accusation 4:  “[CPJ] an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending the rights of journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned about local authorities’ harassment of journalists and media outlets …. CPJ is particularly troubled by the manifest intolerance to criticism displayed by Perugia Public Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, who has filed or threatened to file criminal lawsuits against individual reporters, writers, and press outlets…. [Editor of]  the national weekly newsmagazine Oggi, received an official notification that Mignini had started legal action against him in response to an Oggi article…. the U.S. weekly newspaper West Seattle Herald… published an article that … contained a reference to unnamed legal experts who reportedly believed Mignini to be “mentally unstable.” …. swift reaction by Mignini … (who) file a defamation claim against the West Seattle Herald…  Joe Cottonwood, another U.S. writer Mignini has threatened with a criminal defamation lawsuit ... the action stems from a … comment (where) Cottonwood described Mignini as an “intellectually dishonest bully.”  (Source: CPJ Letter to 21 World Leaders 19-04-2011 )  “What we are concerned about is that the press - domestic and international - is free to report and comment on the case without fear of reprisal.”  (Source: CPJ followup explanatory note 28-04-2011. )

First a clarification. Joel Simon presumably means the press should be free to report accurately and without unfounded libelous smears. Let’s hope that he doesn’t really maintain reporters’ rights to defame without basis, to provoke unhinged ranters on the web who channel hate against the Perugia officials and those who support them day-in and day-out.

Forensics Method for Test 4: Common sense and a little Google

Line of Investigation for Test 4: Let’s get this straight: here the CPJ is concerned that reporters and news media will not freely report or express opinions in the case of the murder of Meredith Kercher. The CPJ believes that this is happening because of threats by Mr. Mignini.

I think that we should check to what extent the press actually feels threatened, and to what extent they are modifying their comportment due to Mr. Mignini’s supposed inappropriate actions which the CPJ considers go beyond what could be reasonably expected.

Test 4a, Step 1:

Google:  judge sues newspaper defamation (enter)

You get 1,750,000 results, so it’s clear that the fact that members of the judiciary sue the press is not something that Mr. Mignini invented. You probably see where I’m going, so I’ll save us the effort of doing a few additional seconds of Googling different combinations like:

  • Google: judge sues radio slander (enter)
  • Google: judge sues media defamation (enter)

And so on. You end up with many, many millions of Google responses.

Since I’m trying to limit the execution of this test to a matter of seconds, let me take one of the mundane examples from the first page of Google results: this spring, the Voice of Richmond, a small local newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, was sued for the second time in two years, by the judge and a lawyer in the first case.




Above:  A defamation suit by a member of the judiciary or any other citizen is the most normal thing in the world. Most examples – like this case involving the Voice of Richmond, which I selected simply because it was one of the first Google results – are related to questioning the appropriateness of courtroom procedures. 

Other defamation suits, like Mignini’s claims against the West Seattle Herald’s reporter Steve Shay’s article (“mentally unstable”) or Joe Cottonwood (“intellectually dishonest bully”) are not against incursions limited to question the procedures in a legal case , but against open and baseless personal attacks, as seen from the point of view of the victim.

Is the CPJ concerned about the defamation suit against the Voice of Richmond? Has it published a letter to political leaders and pasted it prominently on its site, claiming that the judge in Richmond should just sit back and take criticism of his courtroom procedures?

If the Voice of Richmond newspaper, instead of being critical of courtroom procedures in a potentially defamatory manner, had associated the judge’s good name with the expression “mentally unstable”, or if the paper had called him an “intellectually dishonest bully”, only then would the CPJ have jumped in to defend the Voice of Richmond’s right to do such name calling?

The conclusions to this test, I must say, are pretty obvious.

My point is that while most people will agree with CPJ that public officials should put up with criticism of their work, we all agree that personal smears (or what the alleged defamation victim and the public could see as a personal smear) certainly should give way to the right to defend one’s honour.

This should be the case not only in the thousands of cases documented in Google that the CPJ doesn’t seem to get worried about (which is good news), but also in the case of Mr. Mignini, whom someone in or very close to the CPJ seems to be especially nervous about (which is disturbing news).

Test 4b, Step 1:

With just the results of Test 4a, I could already proceed to update the Balance Sheet for Testing CPJ’s Anti-Mignini Accusations as regards the example of Mignini suing certain persons or news outlets for personal attacks against his honour.

However, let’s take a fast look at each of those persons or news outlets to see if there are any factors which could change in one direction or another our conclusion that it’s perfectly normal for a person in the judiciary to sue for defamation, in particular when the alleged defamation does not concern his professional activity but his personal characteristics.

Without further ado, let’s carry out another search.

Google: site:oggi.it “oggi.it” amanda knox OR edda OR chris OR mellas (enter)

Each reporter, newspaper and magazine out there has their own view on the personalities in the Meredith Kercher murder case. There are a couple of outlets, like OGGI magazine which for some unknown reason have taken a particular liking to the Knox Mellas family, resulting in the members of this family and their travails getting special coverage, as the Google results show (use the Google translator if need be).


[Above: The Knox-Mellas clan find one corner of ongoing support and sympathetic coverage in Italy in OGGI magazine.]

The fact that this magazine takes a particular view to Amanda Knox’s family is a question of how they want to focus their coverage of this case. Quite another thing are their insinuations about certain elements of the prosecution’s case.

For example, in recent weeks there seems to be an all out attack on the hearing capacity and the mental faculties of Signora Nara Capezzali, a neighbour who on the night of Meredith Kercher’s murder heard the running of multiple persons near the cottage, just after a piercing scream (the danger of this testimony for pro-Knox forces is that it points to more than one person being involved in the crime, including Amanda Knox).

Just for interest’s sake, to see how Amanda Knox friendly voices have latched onto this issue, do another fast Google search: “amanda knox” “nara capezzali” deaf OR crazy OR psychiatric (enter)

OGGI and reporter Giangavino Sulas participated in the attack on Signora Capezzali, and by extension on prosecutor Mignini’s case:

“The witnesses … suffer from sufficiently serious problems of deafness, of physical and also mental health,  to be hospitalized in a psychiatric ward (as in the case of Nara Capezzali).”  (Source:  Giangavino Sulas , OGGI Magazine, April 2011)

This test and the ones that follow are not meant to prove anything in particular as regards Mr. Mignini’s right to defend his honour (which we saw clearly in Test 4a).

However, these additional tests do put some perspective on those who decry Mignini as threatening (or whom CPJ has dug up as “victims” of Mignini – I’m not aware that either OGGI, Steve Shay or Joe Cottonwood were searching for the CPJ to ask it to put together its Letter to 21 World Leaders, not even a junior reporter from the diminutive West Seattle Herald could have been able to dream that up).

In addition, if what CPJ is concerned about is “that the press—domestic and international—is free to report and comment on the case without fear of reprisal”,  (Source: CPJ followup explanatory note 28-04-2011 ) it is more than evident by consulting recent reporting by OGGI and in particular by Giangavino Sulas, that that magazine and reporter are not holding back in examining and opining on all elements of the prosecution and conviction of the murderers (pending appeal) of Meredith Kercher.

Test 4c, Step 1:

Let’s go to a popular pro-victim discussion board concerning the murder of Meredith Kercher, such as TJMK or the Perugiamurderfile.org. Do a search for Steve Shay, and you will see references to examples on other sites which demonstrate how this reporter swims like a fish amongst pro-Knox social networking friends.


Above:  When West Seattle Herald reporter Steve Shay infiltrates Internet social groups to gather information for his next story, he sure does a good job of appearing to be like-minded with his fellow posters, in this case, the Friends of Amanda lobby Facebook group. 
(Source:  Facebook, image on Perugiamurderfile.org)

Steve Shay’s own social networking postings and his ongoing reporting in the West Seattle Herald demonstrate that Mignini’s potential lawsuit has not made him or his newspaper wither (my personal opinion is that he takes it as a sort of medal that he wears proudly on pro-Knox discussion boards and at FOA money making events).

The CPJ itself states explicitly that “in an email interview with CPJ, West Seattle Herald Editor Ken Robinson said … that the paper does not fear repercussions from Mignini …. he and his newspaper were not perturbed by the prosecutor’s actions”.

So why all the fuss in the CPJ Letter to the World about reporters and newspapers holding back in having a go at the Meredith Kercher murder case? 

The CPJ itself shows that some reporters like Steve Shay can have their cake and eat it too.

Test 4d, Step 1:

I feel a little sorry for Joe Cottonwood, as he appears to have haplessly stepped into an international scene of attacks against Mr. Mignini. However, if the Italian law says that you can’t call someone an “intellectually dishonest bully”, then you should be careful.

Let’s do a fast test on Mr. Cottonwood.

Type Google: joe cottonwood (enter)

From the Google search results, you can take a look at Cottonwood’s own site, or see a summary of his activity in the Wikipedia page on him: “Joe Cottonwood is an American author of fiction and poetry for adults and children. He was born in 1947 and lives in La Honda, California.” (Source: Wikipedia )

Cottonwood not only doesn’t report on the Meredith Kercher murder case, he isn’t even a reporter, nor even calls himself a blogger or a freelancer or journalist.

You can hardly say that Mignini’s legal action to defend his personal honour will affect Cottonwood’s coverage of the case, which is what CPJ’s Letter to 21 World Leaders is all about as CPJ stated in its clarification commentary on its Open Letter..

The fact that Cottonwood is included in an international missive of a journalists’ sectorial association when that isn’t even his profession makes me think that CPJ (or whoever really prepared the Letter to the World) was scraping the barrel for examples.

Approximate time required to obtain material to be analysed: less than 1 second for Google searches, a few minutes to enter and search discussion forums.

Tests 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d Step 2: Conclusions

If American judges can sue for defamation in situations which are less personally insulting than what Mr. Mignini has had to put up with, and this defamation in America doesn’t provoke CPJ’s intervention, then Mr. Mignini’s personal legal actions can’t be worth a Letter to 21 World Leaders.

In addition, simple observation of your examples of three defamation suits shows that it is not true that Mignini’s legal actions to defend his personal honour have affected news reporters’ coverage of the Amanda Knox case.

It is strange and worrying that the Committee to Protect Journalists for some reason wants to deny Mr. Mignini his constitutional right as an Italian and European citizen to not be the subject of abusive attacks.

Let’s do one final exercise: search Google for Mignini and various hate terms like “mentally unstable” and you could conclude that reporters and anonymous bloggers have made Giuliano Mignini into the second most hated man on the planet after Bin Laden - who now, of course, is dead.

Hate remarks against Mignini are now up in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions. The BBC looked into just some of the shrill claims made by reporters whom Joel Simon wants to keep supporting in their anti-Mignini drive and actually found nothing there.

We’re moving along, and as usual, the best is yet to come. Let’s update the Balance Sheet for Testing CPJ’s Anti-Mignini Accusations with our latest findings. I fear that the CPJ is not doing well:

[below::The results of the fourth set of credibility tests of the anti-Mignini accusations gives us the feeling that the CPJ has no basis whatsoever for the accusations, nor does it have justification for sending a Letter to 21 World Leaders.]




Comments

CPJ, for an organization whose purpose is to defend journalists, seems a little unclear about the fundamental rule of journalism: fact check, fact check, fact check (Then run it by your legal department to make sure you aren’t publishing a libel smile

How did we get to where everyone with a blog is considered to be a journalist, and the First Amendment gives one the right to defame anybody and expect no consequences whatsoever?
I
could, I suppose, state that “Frank Sfarzo” was arrested because he was involved in prostitution and that he was hospitalised for mental problems, but I really don’t want to get down to their level.

Posted by Ergon on 05/13/11 at 10:05 PM | #

You have assembled an impressive body of evidence and analysis, Kermit. I hope at least someone at CPJ is paying attention. In fact, they should hire you. It looks like they are a little short-staffed in the fact-checking department. Perhaps if you made a generous donation, they would put your CV at the top of the stack.

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 05/14/11 at 01:19 AM | #

It appears that CPJ joins the ranks of Senator Cantwell and Donald Trump and the like - flash in the pan support until further details (such as detailed in the above Kermit post) come to light, then they fade back into silence.

Posted by giustizia on 05/14/11 at 01:28 AM | #

Thanks for your good job Kermit, in debunking CPJ’s ludicrous claims.

Did they even proof-read what they wrote ? How could they quote what Mignigni, a civil servant, was accused of being “mentally unstable” in connection with his work, then complain to world leaders that he would file a defamation claim ? Of course he would ! He was being defamed !

CPJ look like amateurish idiots now. Supporting the convicted murderess Amanda Knox really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Posted by Sylviane on 05/14/11 at 09:49 AM | #

I have just one suggestion, if it has not already been done: send the folks at CPJ a link to these pages and strongly suggest that they give them due consideration. There is a contact button the CPJ website that can be uses to this end. Kermit has done their due diligence for them; he has made things easy, allowing them to skip the research, organize data and analyze phases. All they have to do is sit down, turn on the computer and read.

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 05/14/11 at 02:39 PM | #

Copy of comment at CPJ website: http://www.cpj.org/blog/2011/04/cpj-responds-to-readers-comments-on-italy-letter.php
This is addressed to Nina Orgianova:
“Our letter was based on firsthand interviews with subjects who were directly affected by Perugia authorities’ actions in retaliation for their reporting or published comments in relation to the Kercher case”
Did you, or did you not “interview at first hand” the person against whom the accusations are being made, Prosecutor Mignini?
Did you attempt to get corroborating evidence from neutral parties or are you only accepting the word of advocacy ‘journalists’ from a well-funded PR campaign?
Given CPJ’s past history of failing to adequately protest the killing of real journalists during the Kosovo and Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, that your failure to answer these questions only serves to undermine your organization’s own credibility?”
Let’s see if a)it gets published and Ms. Orgianova deigns to reply and b) Doug Preston and co. piles on instead smile

Posted by Ergon on 05/14/11 at 04:40 PM | #

Perhaps a direct approach is necessary - direct contact (telephone?) with someone on the Board (someone on it other than Joel Simon).  Perhaps the Chairman, Paul E. Steiger?  Necessary as the reputation of CPJ is at stake. 

http://www.cpj.org/about/board-of-directors.php

Posted by thundering on 05/15/11 at 01:04 AM | #

P.S. I have sent a letter by email under my own name.

Posted by thundering on 05/15/11 at 03:05 AM | #

I sent another letter to CPJ:
@CPJ: I refer you to the case of Sami al Haj, the Al-Jazeera cameraman who was actually held for six years in Guantanamo Bay Prison under conditions that permanently damaged his health. Yet in his case, you published ambiguous, neutral reports which gave US statements he was involved in terrorism equal weight with his protestations of innocence
http://www.cpj.org/reports/2006/10/prisoner.php and ask why you never saw fit to send a similar letter to the President of the United States:
“We ask you to ensure that the politically motivated detention of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al- Haj is immediately scrapped”

Posted by Ergon on 05/16/11 at 05:48 PM | #


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