Jackson Has Every Right To Sue Newspaper Group Culpable Of Irresponsible Journalism

By Gregory Moore
Updated: April 11, 2005

Doc Rivers
A California paper erroneously reported that Bo Jackson took steroids and that’ was the cause for a hip replacement surgery. Jackson is suing the paper and parent company for defamation.

SAN ANTONIO,TX – The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin wants to undue a wrong that was perpetrated on former two star Bo Jackson but it may be too little too late for the Ontario, California publication. Jackson is suing the newspaper, Media News Group Inc., Media News Group Interactive, Inc., sports editor Jim Mohr and three other employees for unspecified general and punitive damages in Illinois.

“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Jackson said. “If anyone wants to check into my medical past, go get blood tests, go check up on those blood tests and see if there was any anabolic steroids in it. You’re more than welcome.”

Mohr should have known better than to attribute such a story to Jackson without absolute facts on the matter. His bosses, including the managing editor and publisher of the paper he works for, definitely should have read the story and started asking questions as to whether there was any validity to what he was saying. Basic Journalism 101 questions from his bosses could have averted all pretense of what will not be a very costly trial on the medium publication’s part.

Jackson’s lawyer, Dan Biederman, said that his client had not further comment and that the lawsuit was going to go forward.

“”It was malicious and reckless and (the reporter) must be held accountable. The fact is, you can’t unring a bell,” Biederman said. “Statements like that can ruin a reputation that people like Bo have worked all their life to build.”

Jackson should sue and he should win a sizeable judgment against the Media News Group because what Mohr did was irresponsible journalism. You cannot and should not write stories on subject matter without having pertinent facts in front of you. As a sports editor, it was Mohr’s duty to check with his collaborators to insure that the resulting story was going to be complete and accurate. He’s the editor of the sports department; that’s his job. Having the title ‘editor’ means that you have approved of the work that is going out. So how irresponsible is it for Mohr to allow a story with his name in the byline to go out? Irresponsible enough that Mohr needs to be either suspended demoted or fired from his position with the Daily Bulletin.

If this punishment sounds a little harsh I want to enlighten everyone on why so many journalists get themselves into trouble during this time and age. Every journalist or person who is in the journalism field needs to adhere to the Code of Ethics as prescribed by the Society of Professional Journalists (that code can be found at www.spj.org). Without really going into every little aspect of the code, I want to highlight just one portion of it that even non-journalists should be aware of and that is “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible”. This is a part of that code that every person, whether they are a reporter, editor, talk show host, or anyone else involved in the journalism field needs to adhere to with the utmost care and due diligence. Is it something that the Media News Group employees followed on this particular story? Not if they are issuing an apology on a story and that is exactly what they are doing just days after finding out that they are the primary party of a lawsuit.

What probably is more damaging is the fact that this story hurts the credibility of two mediums for journalists; print and the web. It is difficult enough for many legitimate organizations and/or news gathering agencies to have their websites thought of as legitimate news sources without having a story like this hanging over their collective heads. Does the fact that Media News Interactive is a part of this lawsuit as a defendant hurt the chances of many websites trying to become ‘legitimate’ newsagents? Yes it does. When you consider the fact that there are many more people who use a website like a daily newspaper or even one like the BASN website as ‘supplementary’ news reading. News websites are the ‘microwave’ device for our reading enjoyment so when stories like this appear in other printed papers that a large media group like Media News Group has faltered, it really hurts everyone in the process; newspapers of any size and websites of all types.

The owners of the News Media Group and its subsidiaries cannot comprehend the kind of damage that this story may have caused Jackson and his family. Even in the ‘ordinary’ world where a great majority of us live, Bo Jackson’s reputation has been above reproach and it has never been tarnished or tainted by negative stories. Until now. Mr. Bierderman says that it was a malicious attempt and Jackson definitely believes it. Do I believe it was malicious on Mr. Mohr’s part? As a journalist I can’t say that the paper, Mr. Mohr or anyone associated with this particular story set out to maliciously cause harm to Bo Jackson’s reputation. However, I am not a legal expert on journalistic ethics and nor will I try to just assume the facts in this matter. For me to assume such notions would actually put me in the same shipyard that the folks of Media News Group are finding themselves in today.

Nobody in the journalism world truly intends to go out and harm any subject they do a story on unless they are just ruthless and cold blooded. Do these types of journalists exist? These types of individuals exist in every type of vertical market these days and journalism isn’t immune to the pariah of that ilk. Mohr and his staff aren’t of that make but they are guilty of not doing their jobs.

Today’s journalists need to be careful that such incidents that Jackson is suing about does not happen. Editorials have a little more leeway in their content but are still based on factual information. News items such as the story Mohr bylined have more checks and balances. Yet in both cases, great care needs to be taken so that there is no rush to judgment by reporters on what the subjects may or may have not been doing in previous lives. Mohr and his staff made some assumptions that are now very costly to their employer and that is what irresponsible journalism will do. But does that mean Jackson have a case to sue the paper for what may be considered an ‘honest mistake’? Unfortunately for the journalists at New Media Group he does. He has a right because what he considers to be the most important part of his life has been defamed. Even though they apologized, the harm has been done and a remedy for ‘healing’ must be applied to the situation at hand.