Update: First read this, which includes this:
the Supreme Court ruled that in order for a public figure to recover for defamation they must be able to prove that the statement was made with "actual malice", i.e., a. a knowledge of falsity or b. a reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.
Yesterday Deadspin decided to publish a bunch of unsubstantiated rumors about the sexual practices of ESPN employees. This is not foreign territory for Deadspin, but when they’ve been sordid in the past they’ve at least done some vetting or sourcing, or hey, even some actual reporting. This was not the case yesterday, and frankly, their little series on ESPN was pretty despicable. In particular, they attacked a middle management type who does not appear in any public capacity for ESPN. Taking a shot at Eric Kuselias might be in bad taste, but at least he’s a public figure. Throwing around rumors about some poor woman in middle management is an entirely different matter.
Proving libel is difficult in America*, especially if the victim is a public figure (where you have to show that the offender knew that they were publishing false information), but in this case there is one non-public figure (I’m not going to write her name or a link. You can find it if you want, and I don’t need to make that any easier). Moreover, I think the public figures may even have a case based on this statement from AJ Daulerio:
“And since the tenuous connection between rumor and fact for accuracy's sake has been a little eroded here, well, it's probably about time to just unload the inbox of all the sordid rumors we've received over the years about various ESPN employees. Chances are, at this point, there's some truth to them.”
While this isn’t an admission that he knew this info was false, it’s pretty darn close. It at least shows that he did not care if it was true or not. In short, it looks like "reckless disregard" to me.
I suppose all of this dirt could be true, in which case Deadspin will remains safe, (despicable, but safe), and ESPN may not want to draw further attention to this situation. But this was a risky venture, and if any of it was false, AJ and Deadspin could be in deep trouble.
I certainly won’t be visiting Deadspin for awhile. I won’t say forever, as they may have Ken Tremendous and company back at some point, but I won’t be back soon.
AJ Daulerio should be ashamed of himself.
*I don’t do libel as part of my job, and the legal analysis here is based entirely on trying to remember law school, so take it with a grain of salt.