This case will determine whether the plaintiff’s Salah Barhoun’s picture appearing on the front page of The New York Post with his friend with the headline “Bag Men” after the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15, 2013 will be considered libelous.
Barhoun is a 17-year-old high school student who participates in cross-country running. He and his friend Yassine Zaime were planning on running the course after the marathon runner had passed but took the wrong subway stop and ended at the end of the race.
We will be focusing on whether the defendant’s actions were libel, which can be defined in The Law of Journalism an Mass Communication as a statement of fact that is published that is of and concerning the plaintiff, that is defamatory, and that is false and for which the defendant is at fault. Because Barhoun is 17 years old and is not a public official or figure, so it can be said that he is a private figure. Whether the act was actual malice- knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth, or negligence- the failure to exercise reasonable or ordinary care.
In this case, the plaintiff should consider an approach of libel to have a better chance t at winning damages. Damages are defined as monetary compensation that may be recovered in court by any person who has suffered loss or injury. They can be compensatory for actual loss, or punitive as punishment for outrageous conduct.
The picture of the front page can be considered to be a statement of fact because it is focused primarily on the two boys, the “bag men”. Barhoun’s side can use burden of proof to determine if the Post’s allegations were in fact libel. Burden of proof is the requirement for a party to a case to demonstrate one or more claims by the presentation of evidence. In libel law, the plaintiff has the burden of prof.
The statement can be said to be a publication because it was on the front page of a nation wide newspaper, The New York Post. The newspaper is a periodical therefore is a publication.
Identification is shown by the exact words printed as the headline, “Bag Men, Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon”, while zoomed in to the two boys. Defamation is apparent because saying the federal government agents are looking for these men implies they are in trouble with the law. Also, in the actual news article within the paper, the two boys have red circles around their heads, almost like a sniper target to point out them specifically.
The plaintiff can also use the clause of falsity to prove whether the boys were actually guilty of the bombings, which the public now knows they were not. The plaintiff should use the stance of negligence as to ensure a win. It was be the minimum level of fault the plaintiff must prove to receive damages.
The defendants can take the approach of fair report privilege, claim by journalists who report events on the basis of official records. The report must be fairly and accurately reflect the content of the records. Post chief Col Allan stated that the photograph was emailed to law enforcement therefore it can be taken as an official record.
The can also use innocent construction, when allegedly libelous words that are capable of being interpreted, or constructed, to have an innocent meaning are not libelous, so long as that interpretation is a reasonable one. The headlines never specifically said the two men pictured were suspects, just that the federal agents were looking for them. The defendant can use this slight loophole to suggest that the men were innocent, and they did not accuse the two of being the bombers.
Based on my newly gained legal insight, I think Barhoun has the best chance to win in this case.
When looking at the libel aspect, the newspaper only has the defense of the slight loophole of wording and how they received the email. The email can still be debated on whether or not it is an official document because of today’s modern technology. Though they never wrote these men are responsible, they did say the “Feds” were seeking them, making most of America assume that these were the faces of the bombers.
The defense has a weak case if using only innocent construction and they can’t even argue about statute of Limitations- the time allotted for the plaintiff to file a case of libel depending on the state. Citizens of Massachusetts have up to three years to file starting from the day of publication, which Barhoun quickly did
Barhoun’s reputation is tainted and he hasn’t even graduated high school yet. The fact that the Post printed the story without even checking the facts are obviously defamatory to the world’s view on Barhourn, and a retraction will not erase it from the minds of American citizens easily.