Will The Seahawk See the Pitfalls of Libel?

Posted: Mar 22, 2007 9:23 AM

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with a writer for the UNCW Seahawk student newspaper. He was interested in doing an article on my recent column, "How to Bomb a Gay Bath House" – a satirical column whose point was that in America political correctness causes people to pay more attention to imaginary threats against minorities than the real threats Muslim extremists pose to all Americans.

My paraphrasing of words from the very website linked to Kent State’s Julio Pino should have helped The Seahawk staff understand the point. Unfortunately, they did not.

In another conversation with the editor of theThe Seahawk, I made sure he understood the satirical nature of the column. He gave no indications that he did not and assured me that the only thing the paper was running Thursday was a letter to the editor by a professor in Texas. I reminded him that it would be libelous to reprint any libelous statements by the professor.

But unfortunately, the editor was lying about his paper’s intentions. The Seahawk Staff was also running a “Seahawk Staff Opinion” piece called “Will Adams see the pitfalls of free speech.” They wrote the following:

Recently, Anne Coulter dropped the "F" word in a speech on North Carolina Democrat John Edwards. Coulter is learning the consequences of free speech, as she must decide whether or not to apologize for her national display of bigotry.

Meanwhile, a Coulter fan in the Department of Criminal Justice posted his opinions on his personal blog. Mike Adams feels that Coulter shouldn't apologize. Moreover, he feels she should go further. Ideas include a "global war on homosexuality" Web site and instructions on "how to bomb gay bath houses" on the West Coast.

Adams is known for stirring up controversy. He has definitely done what he set out to do this time. But so did Coulter.

Just goes to show that you can't learn from someone else's mistakes.

The Seahawk editor’s dishonesty is not the biggest problem here. In fact, it is trumped by the intentionally defamatory effort to portray unmistakable satire as a real incitement to violence. But there is an even bigger problem.

The Seahawk intentionally distorted facts. I’m not talking about the mistaken belief that Town Hall is my "personal blog." I'm talking about the reference to instructions on "'how to bomb gay bath houses' on the West Coast."

Since San Francisco does not actually have any gay bath houses, The Seahawk thought it would be okay to change a crucial fact – making the reference to an entire region of the U.S. not just a city with no gay bath houses. In the process, they engaged in intentional and knowing defamation of character with clearly actionable "actual malice."

The real question is: Will UNCW soon face the consequences in federal court?

I think you already know the answer.