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Only a few weeks ago one of the long held beliefs about libel suits – that truth always succeeded as a defense, has been sharply redefined in the recent Noonan vs. Staples case called “The most dangerous libel case in decades.” The plaintiff won the appeal because the court ruled the email in question was written with “actual malice.” The case is this, Noonan, a manager for office supply giant Staples was falsifying expense reports for travel expenditures. Once found out he was fired. Staples then emailed a memo to 1500 employees (many of whom do not travel for the company), explaining why Noonan was fired and what their policies were regarding travel expenditures. Noonan then sued for libel, lost in summary judgment, appealed and won. The case will continue to be appealed until a clear winner is decided upon and it very well may go to the Supreme Court to be decided.

The reason everyone is so upset by this ruling is that newspapers, publishers and editors always have acted on the belief that truth is the ultimate defense for a libel case. This note said nothing false, and in my view it wasn’t even mean spirited. Yes, perhaps they shouldn’t have printed his name, but to me it seems like the judge should have thrown out the case.

My Communication Law book explains that libel law walks a fine line between “reputation rights and First Amendment principles of free expression.” (113) But the authors go on to explain that the libel tort has six elements that must be satisfied for a win. They are: 1) Defamatory content, 2) Falsity, 3) Publication, 4) Identification 5) Fault and 6) Harm.

In this case it is clear that the content of breaking the law is defamatory content, it was published in the form of an email, the plaintiff was identified, and Staples was at fault. The two that are most important however are not apparent. It is not false and I want to know what proof of harm this person can give. If he is already breaking the law, surely a memo cannot damage that reputation? But alas, the most important is that of the falsity.

The article explains that the plaintiff used a 1902 Massachusetts ruling as a precedent. It states actual malice on a private citizen could be used to win a libel case. Opposition looked back to the important New York vs. Sullivan case in rebuttal. This case stated as long as it was with public concern, truth with “actual malice” was no case. But because Noonan is a private citizen, he may have grounds to win.

Needless to say the media world is frenzied over this decision. If this case continues to win a cornerstone in media law will fall crumbling down. Documentaries with a negative tone, investigative reporting on private citizens may all be at risk of a future actual malice ruling.

To me this ruling is gravely disappointing. The truth has always been the key element to journalism and if journalists and communicators cannot rely on truth being upheld in court we will be reduced, as the article said, from not saying anything unless we say something nice.

While I frown upon Staples for their unprofessionalism in naming a person in a formal memo with no other reason than to perhaps shame him, I do not see a libel case here. I see a disappointing use of resources, I see bad planning by Staples managers, a failure at human resource guidelines and a clear invasion of privacy tort.

According to privacy laws in the United States (as restated on Wikipedia) the invasion of privacy tort includes: 1. Intrusion of solitude 2. Public discourse of private facts 3. False light and 4. Appropriation. This case would be a likely candidate for the public discourse of private facts. The two conditions to win this case are these: 1.Would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and 2. Is not of legitimate concern to the public.

How someone is terminated would indeed be both offensive and is not a legitimate concern of the public. This is how this case should be tried. In fact, in the Wikipedia article speaks to the very difference of libel and invasion of privacy.

“‘Unlike libel or slander, truth is not a defense for invasion of privacy.’ Disclosure of private facts includes publishing or widespread dissemination of little-known, private facts that are non-newsworthy, not part of public records, public proceedings, not of public interest, and would be offensive to a reasonable person if made public.” Wikipedia, Privacy Laws of the United States

As indicated by this quote, this case is a perfect case for invasion of privacy laws, but not one of libel. Libel is a sacred part of the journalism profession and reporters, managers and publishers alike need to know they can keep on seeking the truth and reporting it, or they are nothing more than kids with rose colored glasses. Reporters must be able to see and report the world as it is, even if that means saying the negatives. No, this man’s name should not have been given out in a memo about his termination, but this case in no way should change a 75 year tradition of free expression by telling the truth.

 

 

 

 

In a recent article by the Washington Post, reporter Gautam Naik explained how a controversial clinic in LA will soon offer “trait selection” in addition to disease screening in a process called pre implantation genetic diagnosis or PGD.

It works like this: the fertility specialists take an assortment of three day old embryos and screens those selected for select characteristics — originally for things like mental retardation, blindness and diseases. But the opportunity for so-called cosmetic screening is almost too simple. You are already screening for diseases, why not see how tall they might be, how smart they might be, what sex, what color hair? It’s still you — just the best parts of you. (If this sounds familiar it’s because you’ve seen GATTACA, a 90’s science fiction movie involving the same scenario.)

Essentially PGD is the gateway to designing children. Obviously uproar has ensued. What may have started with good intentions may soon give parents the ability to choose to bestow their children with special characteristics.

Now let me say first of all that I am in complete disagreement with this technology. It seems like we are playing God and I’ve always felt that we were not given the ability to pick and choose for a reason. The consequences are so obvious. Gender balance will be skewed, discrimination will likely follow and we will have nothing else left to chance.

Can you imagine a 1st grade class room 50 years from now if this practice becomes customary– a room filled with tall, blond haired, smart, blue-eyed athletes. What of those other, “normally” reproduced children? Will we have remedial classes left for them in hopes of catching up? Or by then will they all be automatically aborted to avoid a life full of disappointment? They would grow up knowing they could never compete with those who have been designed for greatness.

It’s a sad reality, but as I grow into an age that I will soon be carrying children, the selfish side of me wonders what I would choose if I could choose anything. I would want a girl and a boy. I would want them to be perfectly healthy. I would want them to look like my boyfriend, my future husband, but I would want them to think like me. Even saying that out loud I feel guilty and sick.

How could I not simply be happy with a healthy child? But that’s why this was started, wasn’t it? To simply know for certain your child would be healthy. Why not know they will be beautiful? How many of us would wish that we had been designed for greatness? What pain would we have avoided? What teasing would have ceased? What could we have accomplished if we had had nothing holding us back?

But then, if my parents had had a lot of embryos made and screened I would never have been chosen, for I was born with a birth defect. Inside the petri dish they could not see past my imperfections, to what I might be even with my imperfections. My brother or sister embryo would be selected, implanted, created.

Me, a deformed little embryo, would have been kept from living a life not worth living. By that I mean a life not made perfect.  I would have been tossed into the waste to avoid the terrible existence which I call life. I would be collateral damage.

Yes, life can be terrible and hard. Sometimes we are friendless and alone but that is what makes us who we are. If we are designed into perfection think of all of those, all of us, who would never be. Those random two halves that may not have seemed perfect under a microscope, but they are perfect, perfect in the random chance, perfect because we didn’t get to choose. More beautiful because they are the way they are and not the way they could be.

I think God didn’t give us this decision for a reason. We are born with the ability to create human life, to reproduce, but we are not God and should not assume we have the authority to pick and choose who is fit to live, who is the most perfect. That would be a world not worth living in. It is imperfection that makes life interesting. I am imperfect, and I’m glad I had the chance to live.

And for me, my imperfect child, who ever they are, will be loved for every ounce of imperfection that they are. Like I was.

A father at 13

As I hopped online and checked the headlines on MSN, as I always do, I was intrigued by the link to “baby faced boy is father”

As I clicked on the link I read a disturbing story. In Britain, a tabloid printed that a 13-year-old, baby-faced boy is the father of a newborn. One of the youngest reported. 

The mother is a 15-year-old girl. Reportedly, she was on birth control but missed a day. At the time on conception she was a girl of 14, he a boy of 12. I didn’t know you could get birth control this early.

According to the article England is known for a very high teen pregnancy, not as high as the U.S., but high. But this, to me this isn’t teen pregnancy, this is child pregnancy.

The article describes how the young, four-foot tall boy impregnated the much older looking girlfriend. They didn’t want to tell anyone the secret and abortion wasn’t an option. The boy seems to think he can be a good father, and is allowed to sleep at his girlfriends every night — even now.

The young boy’s father said he wants to have “the talk” with his young son too so there isn’t another baby.

Is this incredulous and disturbing and sick to anyone else? How is this allowed to happen? This isn’t a national crisis; this is a crisis in parenting. And if nothing else the school should be teaching children what it means to have sex, what it means to have a child.

The fact that this boy thinks he could be a father is hard to handle. He says doesn’t have much pocket money.

At 13, much less 12, I didn’t know what sex was. And reading the story, about how sad this boy was after having sex I wonder just how much of a choice it could be for this boy. I have a feeling his girlfriend may have known a lot more what she was doing.

I am more than anything, deeply saddened by this story and hope that parents will do their part to at least impart understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and sex with their young children. This shouldn’t be happening, and even if it’s just once, an anomaly, it’s once too much.

The Flu Shot

It is the irony of ironies. Except that it’s not.

I got the flu — the aches, the headache, the congestion, the fatigue and the all night chills despite being covered in four blankets, a sweatshirt, pants and socks. I never expected it, but as I woke up on Saturday morning it wasn’t a hang over I felt, it was a knock-your socks-off-crawl-into-bed misery. 

I remember the scene two months ago vividly. It was me, telling my roommates I was not going to get a flu shot. I didn’t need in one.

I am a young, healthy person. Why should I put more into my body than I absolutely need? They tried to convince me that I would avoid getting sick, I heard but didn’t listen. I even wrote an article for my college newspaper last year about the importance of getting a flu shot, even if you are young and healthy. It wasn’t the $15 that kept me away, it was my own stubborn pride that I was better than this. I didn’t need help.

Well, the school that I missed and the aches that I’ve endured have suppressed that pride and convinced me that next year, I’ll be first in line.

For the last few days I have heard the rumors flying about a Californian woman, Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to eight healthy children using in vitro fertilization. The divorced, single mother has six previous children using in vitro. The rumors turned to actuality as I watched The Today Shows Ann Curry interview the mother who has been called everything from ambitious to cruel.

In this exclusive interview Suleman recounts her lonely “dysfunctional” family and childhood as an only child. She said she always wanted a large family, something (or someone) to be connected to. She finally has the family she wished for — with the recent birth she now has 14 children all under the age of seven, no reliable means of income and no father to support either emotionally or financially. To me this seems like a straight path to dysfunction.

The woman seemed calm on screen and seems confident in her ability to raise these children on her own. In my mind however, I am unconvinced of any one woman being able to care for so many infants. She told Curry in the interview she has been able to hold each of her infants for 45 minutes — that’s a six hour day. This doesn’t include her other six children who need attention and love. How can one woman provide enough love or affection for 14 needy children?

She expects to return to school in the fall and pursue a masters in counseling in order to eventually provide for her children financially (she’s hoping her family, friends and church to help until then).

Let’s take the calculator out.

If her 14 children get just 45 minutes of attention from their mother we have 10.5 hours. If she wants to work eight hours, we are at 18.5 hours — leaving just 5.5 hours to sleep, eat, shop and live. One woman cannot do it and I pity the children. I do not see the woman as unloving. I see her as simply inadequate. The uterus is not designed for eight fetuses and a mother is not built to be a mother to so many infants at one time.

The birth calls a bigger issue to the surface. Human reproduction has long been controlled by the limitations of the human body. Those who could reproduce could, those who couldn’t dealt with infertility or choose to adopt. 

Many are saying the specialist who helped Suleman conceive (he or she was involved in all 14 pregnancies) is irresponsible, letting one woman have so many children. Which makes me wonder — who gets to decide what is right, what is wrong when it comes to the making of kin?

It is such a great power we are now able to wield. We have in our hands the ability to reproduce, to create new life. And as of now there is no regulation, no say of who is capable, able or authorized.

This scientific revolution has left the outdated laws in a rush of embryonic technology.  The woman obviously loves children and she wants children, but eight children in addition to six at home. Could the specialist have denied her? Should he or she have? 

Should they allow a sixty year old woman to conceive if it’s likely she won’t live beyond her child’s adulthood?

Should we allow lesbian and gay couples to conceive with donated sperm?

Should we allow man/woman to become pregnant?

But that’s the question isn’t it? Who gets to “allow” anything?

I have never felt comfortable telling anyone what they can or cannot do as long as they are not harming others. But I wonder if the children will be harmed.

But so many other children are out there, in “normal” two parent households who face the same struggles and dysfunctional upbringing. Children are born into a harmful world.

The debate is out. Science is allowing for more and more people to take matters of life (literally) into their hands. And as it becomes more common the debate will only become more heated.

As for me, I have yet to have a definitive opinion, but I do feel this is wrong — but I do not know who to blame. Should we screen in vitro candidates? Give them credit checks and psychological tests? Would Suleman have passed? Who gets to decide who deserves to be a parent? No one knows. I don’t.

But I know one thing those children deserve a mom to care for them in more than a scheduled slot. And I hope for their case I am wrong.

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