Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Monday, April 20, 2009
Local News "Seeks the Truth"

I want to commend the Louisville Fox affiliate, WDRB-41, for its decision not to air, or even report on, its interview with Karen Sypher, the woman Louisville coach Rick Pitino asserts has attempted to extort him. According to an ESPN report late last night:
Karen Sypher recently did a lengthy interview with the Louisville Fox affiliate, WDRB-41, but the station reported Saturday night that it "has decided not to relate details of her claims at this time."

WDRB news anchor Candyce Clifft, who conducted the interview with Karen Sypher, said the station has chosen not to air it because "we couldn't substantiate the claims she was making." Clifft said the claims against Pitino were "of a personal nature, not related to his recruiting or coaching. That's all I'm at liberty to say."

Clifft said Sypher approached WDRB with the information.

Clifft said she interviewed Sypher for nearly two hours on-camera, in the presence of WDRB's general manager and news director. Afterward, the station had an independent polygraph expert administer a lie-detector test to Sypher -- a test she agreed to do before the interview.

Clifft said that the polygraph test could have any of three results: pass, fail or inconclusive. She said Sypher's test fell into the inconclusive range. Clifft said there were some questions she asked that Sypher did not answer conclusively or convincingly, which heightened the station's concerns about the veracity of her information.

Coupled with the fact that there were no criminal complaints filed or charges
levied, the station decided not to air the interview.

"I don't know if we'll ever air all or any of the interview," Clifft said. "Right now there
are no plans to do that."
The local Fox affiliate, and the reporter who conducted the interview, made journalism ethics a priority over national publicity in being the first source to reveal questionable allegations involving Rick Pitino that are unrelated to his coaching responsibilities. Since Pitino is a public figure, the Fox affiliate could have easily hid behind the First Amendment, which certainly would have protected them from a defamation lawsuit.
Another news source will gladly put journalism ethics aside in favor of profiting from tabloid journalism and feed the public with a sensationalized story, probably even before the day is over....


I think this is a case of a news organization weighing the probability of a defamation lawsuit carefully. Had her polygraph come back indicating she spoke the truth, it would have aired, regardless of whether it was otherwise corroborated.

The 1st Amendment does not prohibit a defamation action where there is reckless disregard for the truth.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/20/2009 6:32 PM  

Actually the standard for a public figure is malicious intent or reckless disregard. That standard is so ridiculously high that an inconclusive polygraph probably would have tipped it in WDRBs favor.

The public figure must show malice or reckless disregard by "clear and convincing evidence" New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 I doubt an inconclusive polygraph would qualify as clear and convincing evidince.

Instead, lets give them some credit. They could have ran the story, then hid behind the First Amendment. BUt instead they chose the high road. Good for them!

Blogger Jimmy H -- 4/20/2009 11:24 PM  

Actually, I think it was a case of a local new station who caved from the fear of Pitino's power in the region. Was it irresponsible for the media to broadcast to the world that Pitino alleges Sypher created a criminal act of extortion without proof or evidence that was public and available to believe or refute the charges? You can't have it both ways unless you are Rick. When the truth comes out and the first sign of "blood" appears the media will be on him like sharks as they usually do. Taking the high road? I don't think so. It was suppressing one side of the controversy, thereby opening up the internet bloggers trails with unfounded rumors and trashing Sypher's reputation, since only Pitino's side was heard.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/21/2009 12:01 PM  

I want to believe Rick K. is right about all this. I really do. I hope that it reflects journalism ethics rather than something else as Anon 12:01 suggests.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/21/2009 1:16 PM  

Journalism ethics 001: You can't praise someone's acts unless you know all the facts.


Anonymous StopItNow -- 4/22/2009 5:59 AM  

by the way, Petino's orchestrated media campaign, complete with FBI references, is worthy of suspicion. He knows he's adored by the UL faithful and launched a premptory strike and now has the media eating out of his hand. Take a deep breath and relax, people, there's more to come.

Anonymous McHaleandthedoor -- 4/22/2009 6:02 AM  

Post a Comment