Blogging and First Amendment

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Meredith Nilan's dismay at the pounding she has taken on the blogosphere in regard to the car accident she was involved in last Decem ber is understandable, particularly given the death threats she has received. In response to those concerns, however, Central Berkshire District Court Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega came down on blogger Dan Valenti like a ton of bricks in a way that should concern anyone who takes the First Amendment seriously.

The judge ruled that Mr. Valenti must remove "any and all references" to Ms. Nilan from his blog Planet Valenti, a blanket order that doesn't take into account whether any or all references contain lies, innuendo and distortions, as alleged by Ms. Nilan. Mr. Valenti has complied with the order. (See letter this page.) The judge went on to issue a harassment prevention order even though there is no indication that Mr. Valenti has engaged in any form of personal harassment.

The Internet, of course, has created a new form of Wild West journalism in which accuracy and fairness too often give way to haste and wild speculation. (CNN and FoxNews Thursday got caught up in what The Daily Show's Jon Stewart calls "news-firstiness" when they erroneously reported that the Supreme Court had shot down the Affordable Care Act.) The desire to beat traditional media to a story can lead to blog posts lacking depth and context, and those offering responses to a post may fan the flames with smears and by contributing conspiracy theories that are little more than fantasies.

The best way for any form of media to protect the First Amendment from over-reaching judges is to avoid giving judges the opportunity to over-reach. That means taking the time to produce fair and fact-checked stories and requiring those who comment on those stories to live up to those standards as well.



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