Thursday, August 16, 2007

Imus sued.

While Don Imus is in negotiations to resume his radio career, the reason for his hiatus is now coming back to haunt him.

Don Imus is facing his first lawsuit from a player on the Rutgers Women's Basketball team for derogatory comments that cost him his job as a radio host in April, ABC News has learned.

Kia Vaughn, star center for the Rutgers Women's Basketball team, has filed a lawsuit against Imus for libel, slander and defamation -- the first civil suit to be filed against the former radio host. Vaughn is asking for monetary damages of an unspecified amount.

"This is a lawsuit in order to restore the good name and reputation of my client, Kia Vaughn," said her attorney, Richard Ancowitz, in an exclusive interview with the ABC News Law & Justice Unit.

The suit names Imus individually, but it is also waged against MSNBC, NBC Universal, CBS Radio, CBS Corp., Viacom Inc., Westwood One Radio and Imus producer Bernard McGuirk.

The suit refers to terms used by Imus April 4 -- including referring to women on the team as "nappy headed" -- as "debasing, demeaning, humiliating, and denigrating" to Vaughn and her fellow players.

I am the furthest thing from a legal mind so I decided to research what constitutes libel, slander and defamation.

In law, defamation is the communication of a statement that makes a false claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may harm the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government or nation. Most jurisdictions allow legal actions, civil and/or criminal, to deter various kinds of defamation and retaliate against criticism.

They key phrase here is “expressly stated or implied to be factual.” Anyone who listens to a morning radio show and takes what show hosts say as the gospel is deluding themselves. To prove that Imus was attempting to factually present the Rutgers women as truly being “nappy headed hos” is going to be a tough sell.

The common law origins of defamation lie in the torts of slander (harmful statement in a transitory form, especially speech) and libel (harmful statement in a fixed medium, especially writing but also a picture, sign, or electronic broadcast), each of which gives a common law right of action.

It’s irrefutable that Imus made the statements in a transitory form on an electronic broadcast. But I am truly baffled how Ms. Vaughn could have been considered “harmed” by such statements. As a college sophomore and an amateur athlete, she wasn’t earning anything financially. Therefore, there’s no proof of monetary loss. And I have a hard time ascertaining her reputation being harmed since the entire Rutgers women’s team became sympathetic figures in this whole controversy. I doubt anyone outside the state of New Jersey could have named more than three players on said basketball team prior to the April 4 incident. Even though Rutgers made a strong showing in the NCAA tournament (runner-up in the championship game) nobody ever remembers who finishes second in anything.

I want to be on record as saying I too found Imus’ comments reprehensible and stupid. But did that cause me to think any less of Kia Vaughn and her teammates? Absolutely not!

"There's no way these bigoted remarks should have seen the light of day," Ancowitz told ABC News.

No, Mr. Ancowitz. This lawsuit shouldn’t see the light of day.


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