NBC beats defamation appeal over 'bomb' segment on 'Today'

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 25, 2017 11:20 AM

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday said NBC News did not defame an Oregon sporting goods company by characterizing its exploding rifle targets as "bombs" in a report on the "Today" show.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Tannerite Sports LLC did not show that NBCUniversal, part of Comcast Corp, made false statements about its targets, which contain chemicals that detonate when mixed together and shot with high-velocity bullets.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler also said that when reporter Jeff Rossen told viewers in the March 2015 report he was "basically holding a bomb in my hand," his description was "at the least, substantially true."

A lawyer for Tannerite did not immediately respond to requests for comment. NBCUniversal had no immediate comment.

Tannerite sued over the 'Today' report and an accompanying online article, "Bombs for sale: Targets containing dangerous explosive being sold legally," saying its rifle targets were not bombs and were "inert" when sold in stores.

Pooler, however, said the company appeared not to recognize the distinction between products that happen to explode, and those designed or intended to explode.

The Tannerite target's "singularity of explosive purpose - the fact that it is designed to be dispersed in a violent or rapid manner upon detonation - marks it as a kind of bomb," she wrote.

Pooler also said no reasonable viewer could conclude that Tannerite targets could explode in stores, noting that Rossen said it was "not dangerous being the studio right now" and that "you need a catalyst" before a target could explode.

According to the decision, the targets enhance long-range recreational shooting, and a 2014 Tannerite product guide said: "[s]trike your target and the gratification is instant."

The decision let stand an October 2015 dismissal of Tannerite's lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has since left the bench.

Tannerite is based in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, about 120 miles (193 km) south of Portland.

The case is Tannerite Sports LLC v NBCUniversal News Group, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-3485.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York)