Vicki Iseman drops $27 million defamation suit against the NYT; Update: Iseman’s lawyer declares victory

posted at 4:32 pm on February 19, 2009 by Allahpundit

No settlement, no apology, nothing.

To the staff,

Vicki Iseman has dropped her lawsuit against The Times, just weeks after it was filed. We paid no money. We did not apologize. We did not retract one word of the story, which was a compelling chapter in the tale of Senator John McCain and his political rise.

The story stands as a powerful examination of a presidential candidate who cast himself as an ethics reformer and scourge of special interests, yet seemed blind at times over the course of his career to appearances of conflicts of interest.

The article was the result of deep reporting, dozens of interviews and an abundance of caution. I am as proud now of the work of the reporters — David Kirkpatrick, Jim Rutenberg, Stephen Labaton, and Marilyn Thompson — as I was the day it ran.

In Friday’s paper we are publishing a note to readers that repeats what we had already said in countless interviews, that the article did not state or intend to conclude that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic relationship with Mr. McCain.

We let Ms. Iseman’s lawyers have their say in a commentary on the Web, with a response from Bill Keller. Why? Because that’s what we do. We let people we write about have their say.

Dean Baquet

Kudos to Baquet for having the sheer balls to write that last line. As for the part in boldface, it’s a transparent lie: The article did indeed intend to conclude, or rather insinuate, that Iseman and Maverick had been canoodling. The third sentence in the Times’s “bombshell” read, “Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.” That was enough to convince their own ombudsman to call shenanigans on their “who, us?” excuse-making:

The article was notable for what it did not say: It did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately — an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad. And it did not say whether Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance. The Times did not offer independent proof, like the text messages between Detroit’s mayor and a female aide that The Detroit Free Press disclosed recently, or the photograph of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap…

A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

I wrote in December that I thought that’d be good enough to squeeze a few bucks out of them, particularly if she was deemed a “private figure” for First Amendment purposes. Frankly, I’m amazed that the legal distinction between “X and Y were having an affair” and “anonymous sources were convinced X and Y were having an affair” is so enormous as to make the complaint not even worth testing against a motion to dismiss. Exit question to lawyers: Is there some other issue we’re missing here maybe? Why else would she drop the suit except that she was convinced she had zero chance of winning?

Update: Iseman’s lawyer tells Greg Sargent that he considers this note that’ll run in tomorrow’s edition “complete vindication” for his client. Weak:

An article published on Feb. 21, 2008, about Senator John McCain and his record as an ethics reformer who was at times blind to potential conflicts of interest included references to Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist. The article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.

As I said above, whether or not it intended to “conclude” that there was an affair, it clearly meant to imply that there might have been one, an impression everyone who read the piece was left with and which will be corrected only to a small extent by this “clarification.” In fact, they’ve already “clarified” their position: Bill Keller told the ombudsman shortly after the article ran that, “If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members… But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.” Pretty clearly Iseman’s lawyer realized he wasn’t going to win a defamation suit and this note was the best he could do. Unfortunate.


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In other news, a share of stock in the Times costs less than the paper.

spmat on February 19, 2009 at 4:39 PM

Even if she is considered a private figure, it could be argued that since McCain isn’t, she could be considered a public figure for the purposes of the article. If that’s the case, she had no chance of winning.

blue13326 on February 19, 2009 at 4:40 PM

The NYT has lost 90% of its value in the last 5 years. I wish them God speed on the next 90%.

faraway on February 19, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Maybe she knew even if she won, the Times couldn’t even afford to pay her enough to cover legal fees. Totally not worth it in that case.

Kelligan on February 19, 2009 at 4:40 PM

That truth is an absolute defense?

:-o

Abby Adams on February 19, 2009 at 4:40 PM

I bet McCain, ever the diplomat, encouraged her to drop it. Not only would the suit keep the story alive, but it’d encourage NYT to dig a little deeper into McCain and Iseman’s prospective backgrounds. And who knows what stories they could concoct with what they find?

hawksruleva on February 19, 2009 at 4:42 PM

Actually, the NYT has lost over $500 million in market value since Obama was elected.

They are only worth $500 million now.

And you thought Obama worked quickly on the stimulus.

faraway on February 19, 2009 at 4:43 PM

spmat on February 19, 2009 at 4:39 PM

faraway on February 19, 2009 at 4:40 PM

This too.

Kelligan on February 19, 2009 at 4:43 PM

spmat on February 19, 2009 at 4:39 PM

You took the words right off of my keyboard… :-)

D2Boston on February 19, 2009 at 4:43 PM

Have you seen the price of NYT’s stock? She probably figured they couldn’t afford to cover the $27 mil anyway.

malan89 on February 19, 2009 at 4:44 PM

“Damn” indeed.

OneGyT on February 19, 2009 at 4:45 PM

The old saying, “Today’s newspaper, tomorrow’s toilet paper,” applies here. The way their stock is, maybe they have no money to pay her…..?

DL13 on February 19, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Not fit to wrap fish

Wade on February 19, 2009 at 4:49 PM

Exit question to lawyers: Is there some other issue we’re missing here maybe? Why else would she drop the suit except that she was convinced she had zero chance of winning?

It’s extremely hard for even a private citizen to win this sort of suit in the US. NY Times probably worded it to be justthisside of a libel suit.

And worst case scenario: Iseman wins her suit and is awarded ownership of the Times. Eewwwww, that’s some mess to clean up.

rbj on February 19, 2009 at 4:50 PM

Score one for the Times.

getalife on February 19, 2009 at 4:53 PM

Exit question to lawyers: Is there some other issue we’re missing here maybe? Why else would she drop the suit except that she was convinced she had zero chance of winning

chance that allegations were true, lawsuit was election year cover?

jp on February 19, 2009 at 4:55 PM

How would the nyt have paid?

jukin on February 19, 2009 at 4:56 PM

Exit question to lawyers: Is there some other issue we’re missing here maybe? Why else would she drop the suit except that she was convinced she had zero chance of winning?

One of several things could have happened.

First, she’s realized that it’s not worth it, because the Times is judgment proof.

Second, she found a horse’s head with an Obama sticker on it in her bed.

Third, she got a visit from the same people who visited the guy who sold Obama his residence for $300,000 less than the asking price in a seller’s market.

Fourth, some fine upstanding representatives from ACORN showed up at her house and gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Thug-thizzle.

BuckeyeSam on February 19, 2009 at 4:59 PM

In other news, a share of stock in the Times costs less than the paper.

spmat on February 19, 2009 at 4:39 PM

Heh. Dean Baguette needs to weigh in on the over/under for the final collapse of the Times. Come on, Deano – I have October 5th – what can you tell me?

Jaibones on February 19, 2009 at 5:02 PM

Fourth, some fine upstanding representatives from ACORN showed up at her house and gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Thug-thizzle.

BuckeyeSam on February 19, 2009 at 4:59 PM

Do you mean those “nice” gentlemen wearing dark suits and bow ties?

right2bright on February 19, 2009 at 5:06 PM

Hell yes!

carbon_footprint on February 19, 2009 at 5:06 PM

Hell yes!

carbon_footprint on February 19, 2009 at 5:06 PM

Read the headline a bit closer next time idiot.

carbon_footprint on February 19, 2009 at 5:07 PM

If she had won, they would have paid her in stock. So she would own a paper worth nothing. Go figure.

portlandon on February 19, 2009 at 5:09 PM

Score one for the Times.

getalife on February 19, 2009 at 4:53 PM

Current score:

Impending bankruptcy 1,000,000
New York Times 1

Snowed In on February 19, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Guys, we don’t have to defend McCain anymore. Is it really that far out of the realm of possibility that he likes flirting with women who aren’t his wife? I don’t even think he had sex with her, but McCain definitely seems like the kind of guy that likes pretty women fawning over him.

Speedwagon82 on February 19, 2009 at 5:13 PM

Any comment from Vera Baker?

bloggless on February 19, 2009 at 5:15 PM

Maybe with the Times tanking and probably going out of business, the lawyer figured there might be nothing to win and so drop the suit. I can see a lawyer doing that.

bloggless on February 19, 2009 at 5:17 PM

What is this strange curiosity the “New York Times” that you speak of…….?

Seven Percent Solution on February 19, 2009 at 5:18 PM

Any comment from Vera Baker?

bloggless on February 19, 2009 at 5:15 PM

You’ll need a seance. She swims with the fishes. You think Michelle would allow her to breath another day?

portlandon on February 19, 2009 at 5:20 PM

Of course McCain didn’t have an affair, the old ba$tard can’t get it up anymore.

Don Carne on February 19, 2009 at 5:22 PM

Maybe she decided to sue the guy that lives in the cardboard box next to the Times loading dock instead. His net worth is greater.

RBMN on February 19, 2009 at 5:23 PM

I wonder if the lawyer still got paid for his services.

Repurblican on February 19, 2009 at 5:23 PM

*yawn*

John McWho?

DamnYankee on February 19, 2009 at 5:24 PM

A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

This is the problem with a partisan press. People have been forced to take sides and the reading public ultimately suffer. The failed business models were in place for so long that newspapers had no choice but to compete as tabloids. Obits, weather, crime, some sports stories and business stories are typically safe for consumption.

But printed news runs the risk of being tainted with tabloidism in order to sell more papers.

When we complain about a bias, we need not note which side enjoys the favor of the press. Rather we should lament and abhor any divergence by the press from the search for facts and plain, objective dissemination thereof.

That being said, the Times almost kaput. It should be printed and sold on tp rolls.

The Race Card on February 19, 2009 at 5:26 PM

“The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I don’t get how admitting you ran gossip as news is some sort of vindication.

Jim Treacher on February 19, 2009 at 5:27 PM

By the way, who are more self-congratulatory, journalists or actors?

Jim Treacher on February 19, 2009 at 5:27 PM

I don’t get how admitting you ran gossip as news is some sort of vindication.

Jim Treacher on February 19, 2009 at 5:27 PM

NYT: Hooray, we’re as useful as Carl Cameron!

Snowed In on February 19, 2009 at 5:31 PM

By the way, who are more self-congratulatory, journalists or actors?

I’m gonna go off the board, Jack, and take the current administration for $50.

Snowed In on February 19, 2009 at 5:33 PM

Is it really that far out of the realm of possibility that he likes flirting with women who aren’t his wife? I don’t even think he had sex with her, but McCain definitely seems like the kind of guy that likes pretty women fawning over him.

Speedwagon82 on February 19, 2009 at 5:13 PM

Of course it’s not far fetched, but that doesn’t make it news, only gossip. I don’t like McCain, but that doesn’t mean I have to support crap the NY Times prints.

By the way, who are more self-congratulatory, journalists or actors?

Jim Treacher on February 19, 2009 at 5:27 PM

Journalists by far, always making themselves the story.

Esthier on February 19, 2009 at 5:36 PM

All the Fits We Throw As News

profitsbeard on February 19, 2009 at 5:42 PM

By the way, who are more self-congratulatory, journalists or actors?

Jim Treacher on February 19, 2009 at 5:27 PM

The only thing more sanctimonious than either is an actor playing a journalist.

It’s a bit of a adulatory circle jerk. Without the lauded roles of actors playing journalists, journalists would still be glorified skip tracers…in their own mind.

I actually believe journalism is a very important profession. I also think that without the glory bestowed upon journalists by Hollywood, many would recognize their impending irrelevance in todays digital information shitstorm.

The Race Card on February 19, 2009 at 5:43 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Times Co. said Thursday its board has decided to suspend the newspaper publisher’s quarterly dividend in a move to preserve cash as advertising spending continues to decline amid the recession.

… one can dream of the day.

sannhet on February 19, 2009 at 5:44 PM

NYT stock is now below the cost of the Sunday edition of the paper; not worth taking note of anything they do.

michaelo on February 19, 2009 at 5:51 PM

By the way, who are more self-congratulatory, journalists or actors?

Jim Treacher on February 19, 2009 at 5:27 PM

Answer: Actors because they throw so many boring award ceremonies. At least, we don’t have to see Maureen Dowd in a dress thanking Obama in an award ceremony on prime time television!

terryannonline on February 19, 2009 at 5:57 PM

Score one for the Times.

getalife on February 19, 2009 at 4:53 PM

Logic and broken records are indignant.

p.s. if getalife is still a baby, with a not fully developed brain, I apologize.

Entelechy on February 19, 2009 at 5:59 PM

Pathetic.

juanito on February 19, 2009 at 6:00 PM

terryannonline on February 19, 2009 at 5:57 PM

In all fairness, you don’t have to see the Oscars this Sunday, either…

Snowed In on February 19, 2009 at 6:02 PM

In all fairness, you don’t have to see the Oscars this Sunday, either…

Snowed In on February 19, 2009 at 6:02 PM

I won’t watch the Oscars. I usually tune first five minutes and think to myself, “Why in the world am I watching this boring thing” and then change the channel.

terryannonline on February 19, 2009 at 6:07 PM

Libel is dead letter in this nation anyway.

Techie on February 19, 2009 at 6:12 PM

When the lawyers declared not winning the case a victory and then got Pwned with a “We paid no money. We did not apologize. We did not retract one word of the story” cherry on top, it kinda reminded me of McCain’s whole presidential campaign strategy.

ScottMcC on February 19, 2009 at 6:14 PM

Not to say that “I told you so”…..but I did.

She wasn’t going to win the defamation claim.

jim m on February 19, 2009 at 6:39 PM

The blurring of the line between reporting and story-telling is well stated:

The story stands as a powerful examination of a presidential candidate who cast himself as an ethics reformer and scourge of special interests, yet seemed blind at times over the course of his career to appearances of conflicts of interest.

I.e, a story, a narrative, a fiction….but, of course:

the article did not state or intend to conclude that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic relationship with Mr. McCain

So in the manner of Michael Moore and Oliver Stone and Dan Rather, the NYT weaves real persons into its dramaturgy of the left.

Protected by the libel laws they can do this without worry.

But then, this is a minor work of fiction in the broad history of the NYT.

r keller on February 19, 2009 at 6:46 PM

“Vicki Iseman drops $27 million defamation suit against the NYT”

Even if she won, how would she collect?

NYT stock is worth about two packs of gum!

NYT can not pay their stock holders

I think by this time next week NYT stock won’t be worth one packs of gum!

DSchoen on February 19, 2009 at 9:56 PM

NYT stock rallied today on the news of their victory and closed down $0.20 (5.39%) to $3.51

18 more days like this and it’ll hit zero.

NYT stock ended 2008 at $7.33

They’ve suspended their dividend. Next they’ll suspend printing the paper.

Pythagoras on February 20, 2009 at 12:11 AM

She should have asked G. Gordon Liddy to put his legal bulldogs on the case. John Gibson might want to consult the G Man on responding to Huffpo’s fraud on him.

Mark30339 on February 20, 2009 at 12:09 PM

If I had to guess, I would assume that the Iseman lawsuit fell apart because she could only show defamation by implication, which is not recognized by most states.
Under most state laws concerning defamation, truth is generally an absolute defense to defamation charges. So, in many cases, when someone makes a statement that is truthful, even if it appears to imply something else, it is not actionable. But there is one exception to this general rule. You can have defamation by innuendo. Under this legal theory, a person can show that a person is making a defamatory statement by referencing a fact known to the “publishee” (i.e. the person who heard the defamatory remark). For instance, if someone states to a person in front of other people (i.e. the “publishees”), “You are just like the guy in that letter”, and everyone knows that the letter is about a rapist, you can establish by innuendo that the statement “You are just like the guy in that letter” means you are a rapist. So, under an innuendo theory, you have to show that the defamer referenced a particular fact that is known to the publishee that defines what might appear to be a benign statement.
But courts are very reluctant to allow defamation by “implication” where a party can establish defamation based on what the words could imply. In contrast to the innuendo cases, there is no underlying fact that you can prove to give the defamatory statement its true meaning; that is to say, there is no letter you can put into evidence to show that everyone knew exactly what was meant by “You are just like the guy in that letter.” Think of it this way: how many statements do you think that Rev. Al Sharpton could infer by implication a racist meaning that many others would never think to see a racist meaning. The same thing would happen for defamation where people could easily maintain a lawsuit based on what could be implied by a statement. Thus, if you allow defamation by implication, you could open the flood gates for defamation cases in a society that does not want to overly burden anyone’s right to free speech.
To illustrate this difference, one legal commentator has noted that while the words innuendo and implication have similar meanings for normal English usage, they have very different meanings in the world of defamation. And I think Ms. Iseman found that out the hard way. Given this basic framework, it appears to me that Iseman’s legal theory may have fallen apart when it became evident that she could only support a claim of defamation by implication. And that is not, I would guess, a legally recognized defamation theory in New York.
I hope this helps….

RedSoxNation on February 20, 2009 at 12:31 PM

RedSoxNation
”Under most state laws concerning defamation, truth is generally an absolute defense to defamation charges.

So, in many cases, when someone makes a statement that is truthful, even if it appears to imply something else, it is not actionable.”

Does that include anonymous, unknown sources backed up by other unnamed, unidentified sources?

In other words could a newspaper slander, defame, make absolutely false statements so long as they “claim” this info came from

unidentified
anonymous
unknown
unnamed
secret
mysterious
undisclosed
shadowy
vague
anonymous source or sources? (Yes, that is Thesaurus abuse)
</em
>

Is there a there a “magic” number of anonymous source or sources that “suddenly” becomes “credible?

Are you aware that ALL sources for this “sexual affair” were anonymous source or sources?

Are you aware that ALL named sources for this “sexual affair” denied there was any “sexual affair”

It seems that the NYT defense in this is “If you read the article and interpreted to mean a “sexual affair”, then you, the reader, are an idiot.

Now that would be truthful.

DSchoen on February 20, 2009 at 3:38 PM