Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al.; Sharon v. Time

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Good Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al.; Sharon v. Time Creat Renata Adler am Books Born in Milan, Italy, Adler grew up in Danbury, Connecticut after her parents had fled Nazi Germany in 1933 After attending Bryn Mawr, The Sorbonne, and Harvard, she became a staff writer reporter for The New Yorker She later received her J.D from Yale Law School, and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Georgetown University.Adler s essays and articles have been collected in Toward a Radical Middle 1969 and A Year in the Dark 1970 , Reckless Disregard 1986 , and Canaries in the Mineshaft 2001 Renata Adler is also the author of two successful novels Speedboat 1976 and Pitch Dark 1983 Both novels are composed of seemingly unconnected passages that challenge readers to find meaning Like her nonfiction, Adler s novels examine the issues and s of contemporary life.In 1987, Adler was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters That same year, she received an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University Her Letter from Selma has been published in the Library of America volume of Civil Rights Reporting An essay from her tenure as film critic of The New York Times is included in the Library of America volume of American Film Criticism In 2004, she served as a Media Fellow at Stanford s Hoover Institute.. Renata Adler reports on two of the most talked about trials in recent legal history Sharon vs Time and Westland vs CBS and, through a meticulously researched account of both libel suits, paints an astonishing portrait of the vanity and folly of America s legal and journalistic establishments.. A viral Kindle Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al.; Sharon v. Time In 1984-85, New Yorker reporter Renata Adler attended, and covered for the magazine, two concurrent civil trials in Manhattan federal court: General William Westmoreland's suit against CBS for a 60 Minutes special program asserting that he had conspired to conceal or lie about enemy troop strength in Vietnam, and Ariel Sharon's suit against Time for an article claiming he had discussed with Lebanese Christian Phalangists the need to take "revenge" for Bashir Gemayel's assassination, shortly before the Phalangist massacre of Palestinian and Lebanese refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut in 1982.In addition to being a journalist, Adler was also a Yale Law School graduate, and a superb writer. Her style immediately reminded me of Janet Malcolm, another master of the long-form style of journalism the New Yorker (sometimes) excels in. The book jacket compares Adler's courtroom reporting to that done by Rebecca West and Hannah Arendt, and I'd have to agree. The book jacket summary, in fact, is excellent. I couldn't possibly do a better job summarizing.The legal issues involved are libel and the First Amendment. Adler shows how both CBS and Time, and the powerhouse law firm they both used, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, essentially abused the intent of freedom of the press, digging in their heels and refusing to budge, insisting their original reporting in both cases had been correct, even as the pre-trial depositions and the trials showed this was hardly the case. Both CBS and Time, of course, had multiple opportunities to settle, but neither did. Would it be spoilerly to tell you how the cases ended? Look away now, if you don't want to know! Libel in U.S. law is extremely hard to prove. In Sharon v. Time, the jury found that Time's reporting had been false, but that there was not "actual malice" aimed at Sharon. Conceivably this could be seen as a split decision, since only if actual malice had been found would the issue of damages then been addressed. But it was certainly a moral victory for Sharon. And Time ended up having to answer to an Israeli court as well.Oddly, because the trial seemed to be going quite well for him, Westmoreland dropped the suit against CBS before things wrapped up. This seems to have been done at the urging of one of his lawyers, which seems like terrible legal advice. The other lawyer, whom Adler finds superior, was not consulted.The media does not come off well here. I was reminded of United States v. Libby, where prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald slyly pointed out at every opportunity how virtually every representative of the media involved in the trial had won a Pulitzer at some point, yet their reporting was either wrong, or misleading, or horribly scumbaggy in some fashion. Adler has a wonderful paragraph which, when I get a few free days, I'd like to cross stitch onto a sofa pillow:As early as the first depositions in Sharon, it was evident that witnesses with a claim to any sort of journalistic affiliation considered themselves a class apart, by turns lofty, combative, sullen, lame, condescending, speciously pedantic, but, above all, socially and, as it were, Constitutionally arrogant, in a surprisingly unintelligent and uneducated way. Who are these people? is a question that would occur almost constantly to anyone upon reading or hearing the style and substance of their testimony. And why do they consider themselves entirely above the rules? These people were, to begin with, professionals, accustomed to speak with finality, never questioned except by their bosses; otherwise (in a field that, unlike, for example, true scholarship, suppresses second thoughts and confirming, or contradictory, inquiry) accustomed, in what they said or wrote, to being believed. In addition, these people had, in recent years, the power and glamour of the byline, and the contemporary notion of journalists as, in effect, celebrities bearing facts. What they were intellectually was in some ways surprising: better educated than their predecessors, they were not remarkable for their capacity to reason, or for their sense of language and of the meaning of even ordinary words. Nonetheless, they appeared before the courts not like any ordinary citizens but as though they had condescended to appear there, with their own conception of truth, of legal standards, and of what were to be the rules. As for "serious doubt," it seemed at times unlikely that any of these people had ever entertained one - another indication that "serious doubt" cannot long continue as a form of "actual malice" in the law. What was true and false also seemed, at times, a matter of almost complete indifference to them. Above all, the journalists, as witnesses, looked like people whose mind it had never crossed to be ashamed.It's crystal clear from Adler's reporting that perjury was committed repeatedly on the stand, and in their depositions, by these journalists. Even the lowliest of them - Time's fact checker - came across as sneering and haughty. Although the jury did not find that Time had libelled Sharon, they requested from the judge, and were granted, permission to read after the verdict a rather extraordinary statement critical of Time: "We found that certain Time employees, particularly correspondent David Halevy, acted negligently and carelessly in reporting and verifying the information which ultimately found its way into the published paragraph of interest in this case."The two primary malfeasors - George Crile, who produced, wrote, misleadingly edited and spliced, and in every way crafted the scurrilous piece for CBS, and David Halevy, who invented multiple sources out of thin air and lied repeatedly in depositions and on the stand about them, went unpunished. Instead, Crile became a producer for 60 Minutes, and Halevy was transferred from Time's Israel to its Washington bureau.

About Author

  1. Born in Milan, Italy, Adler grew up in Danbury, Connecticut after her parents had fled Nazi Germany in 1933 After attending Bryn Mawr, The Sorbonne, and Harvard, she became a staff writer reporter for The New Yorker She later received her J.D from Yale Law School, and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Georgetown University.Adler s essays and articles have been collected in Toward a Radical Middle 1969 and A Year in the Dark 1970 , Reckless Disregard 1986 , and Canaries in the Mineshaft 2001 Renata Adler is also the author of two successful novels Speedboat 1976 and Pitch Dark 1983 Both novels are composed of seemingly unconnected passages that challenge readers to find meaning Like her nonfiction, Adler s novels examine the issues and s of contemporary life.In 1987, Adler was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters That same year, she received an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University Her Letter from Selma has been published in the Library of America volume of Civil Rights Reporting An essay from her tenure as film critic of The New York Times is included in the Library of America volume of American Film Criticism In 2004, she served as a Media Fellow at Stanford s Hoover Institute.

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Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al.; Sharon v. Time Comment

  1. In 1984 85, New Yorker reporter Renata Adler attended, and covered for the magazine, two concurrent civil trials in Manhattan federal court General William Westland s suit against CBS for a 60 Minutes special program asserting that he had conspired to conceal or lie about enemy troop strength in Vietnam, and Ariel Sharon s suit against Time for an article claiming he had discussed with Lebanese Christian Phalangists the need to take revenge for Bashir Gemayel s assassination, shortly before the [...]



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