Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Journalists are supposed to approach a story with an objective mindset. But I must admit that I have fallen short of that standard in reporting on Crystal L. Cox, the Montana blogger who was hit with a $2.5-million defamation judgment earlier this month.
Cox apparently upset some powerful folks out west with her reporting on alleged corruption in bankruptcy courts and the real-estate industry. One of those powerful folks, an Oregon attorney who had served as trustee in a bankruptcy case, sued Cox.
The bankruptcy case involved a company with three executives who are facing federal fraud and money laundering indictments, so a powerful stench was in the air from the outset. But a federal jury found that Cox had published defamatory reports about Kevin Padrick, a lawyer/principal with Obsidian Finance Group of Lake Oswego, Oregon, and trustee in the bankruptcy case of Summit Accommodators.
Why have I struggled to maintain objectivity about the Crystal Cox case? Probably because it hits so close to home. As a citizen journalist myself, I pull for bloggers like Crystal Cox to shine light on corporate and governmental misdeeds--especially since the mainstream media has pretty much given up on its role as a watchdog. Also, I know what it's like to incur the wrath of powerful forces who would prefer that their shady acts remain out of the spotlight. Such forces cost me my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and even cheated my wife out of her job at a Birmingham insurance company--all because I have written accurately and aggressively about official misconduct in our area.
I even know what it's like to face threats of a defamation lawsuit. Unlike Cox, I have not actually been sued, and I suspect that's partly because I have supported my reports with public documents and citations to actual law and published reports. That's where a bachelor's degree in journalism and 30-plus years of professional experience come in handy.
In essence, the bad guys in our Legal Schnauzer posts know they are bad guys--and they know my reporting is accurate. That doesn't mean they can't sue me, but it does mean they can't win, under the law--and they probably don't welcome the enhanced scrutiny a lawsuit would bring.
My years of experience on the front lines of journalism give me an advantage that not all bloggers have. But I think citizen journalism needs reporters from all sorts of backgrounds. That's why I wanted Crystal Cox to prevail in the lawsuit against her. And that's why I'm trying to figure out why a jury, assuming it wasn't tainted, went against her.