Strib In The Middle

November 1, 2008

The proverbial fan blades have been encrusted with a nasty substance in the U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman, Al Franken, and don’t forget Dean Barkley.  And the state’s largest newspaper is in the middle of it.

First, the latest.  The Star Tribune is reporting this morning that there are now two lawsuits alleging that a close friend of Coleman’s has “used a marine company in Texas” to pay money to the senator through a Minneapolis insurance company where Coleman’s wife works.  There also are signs that Franken, or at least his party, are using the revelations for political gain.  Says a note on the Strib web site:

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is running TV ads featuring a Star Tribune reporter questioning Sen. Norm Coleman about a lawsuit noted in this report. The video in the ad was filmed without the knowledge or consent of the Star Tribune.

Says Coleman, in a statement: “Each and every allegation in this lawsuit relating to me and my wife is false and defamatory.”  A spokeswoman further stats that the Strib “is actively participating in the destruction of the reputation of Senator Coleman and his wife.”

Speaking of false and defamatory, Coleman also has filed a complaint with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings alleging that Franken is to be blamed for ads claiming that Coleman is the fourth most corrupt senator in the country and gets too good of a deal on a Capitol Hill apartment.  I cannot find the petition online, but it must have been filed pursuant to Chapter 211B of Minnesota Stautes.  Take a read.

OK, some quick analysis from this journalist turned lawyer, with more to come later as developments warrant.  🙂  First, Coleman has an uphill battle if he wants to sue over a lawsuit.  Generally, a litigant can say whatever he wants in a lawsuit.  It is, in legalese, subject to an absolute privilege.  But of course, there are limits to everything, and someday a court might confront this precise issue.

Second, it’s ironic that the Star Tribune is concerned about video of its reporters taken without its “knowledge and consent.”  Newspapers take pictures of persons without their knowledge and consent all the time.  As long as the photos or video are taken on public property and are not used in a way that invades the subject’s privacy, it’s all fair game.

Third, Coleman’s claims.  I could start a blog just to discuss Chapter 211B of Minnesota Statutes and similar federal requirements.  Anyone who values free speech should scrutinize these laws.   And if you do, an intriguing revelation emerges. Chapter 211B makes it a crime –a gross misdemeanor — to actively “participate” in disseminating false campaign information.  Coleman’s spokeswoman says the Strib is “actively participating in the destruction of the reputation of Senator Coleman and his wife.”

Umm.  Stay tuned.

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