It is no secret that Bob Dunning’s column has been a frequent subject of this blog and in a very critical manner. However, we have always done our best to merely make factual corrections of Dunning’s assertions rather than attempt to deride his character. Nevertheless, a man who has made his living for the last 30 years by sarcastically deriding public figures, has little tolerance when the shoe is on the other foot.
Last night Dunning wrote:
“given that various bloggers in town continue to pump out actionable libel and defamation nearly every day of the week, perhaps under the mistaken impression that “anonymous” blogs are no-holds barred free-for-alls where the usual rules of law are suspended . . . they aren’t, which is a lesson some of them will no doubt learn in the near future . . .”
As a public figure, there is a great deal higher burden to prove libel and defamation than a private citizen would have. A private citizen, would only have to prove negligence–that a reasonable person would not have published a given defamatory statement.
However, a public figure would have to demonstrate “actual malice”–that something was published that was knowingly false or in reckless disregard for the truth.
Dunning falls at the very least into the category of a “limited-purpose public figure” one who “has access to the media to get his or her own view across” and also one who “voluntarily participates in a discussion about a public controversy.” Dunning fits both of those definitions.
What might Dunning be referring to?
The only public charge he has made was this one from January 12, 2007:
“Twice on this blog I’ve seen truly ugly references to Catholicism as it pertains to the Above-Pictured Columnist made by anonymous cowards … if this ugliness had involved any other faith, it would be condemned by this town’s alleged civil rights activists as “hate speech,” but it’s apparently open season on Catholics … yes indeed, real life hate-mongers right here in the Most Relevant City in America …”
Following the January 12, 2007 column I did a search on the blog to see if I even mentioned the word “Catholic” or “Catholics” and in fact I did not.
Upon further scrutiny a person who made comments did in fact reference Dunning and Catholic although I would hardly categorize it in the light that Dunning did.
The California Supreme Court on November 20, 2006 wrote:
“Subjecting Internet service providers and users to defamation liability would tend to chill online speech… Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area” people who contend they were defamed on the Internet can seek recovery only from the original source of the statement, not from those who re-post it.”
In other words, I am not responsible for the content posted by others on this blog.
At this point it seems that Dunning merely dislikes being the focus of scrutiny by this blog in much the same way as the rest of the community is the focus of scrutiny and ridicule by Dunning. However, as far as I can tell, none of this rises even remotely to the level of libel and every statement made by this blog that is not immediately provable through the public record, I can back up with multiple witnesses testifying to the accuracy of my statements. Therefore, Dunning’s charge of libel and defamation is patently false and ultimately unprovable.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting