Thursday, May 14, 2009

Balzaga v. Fox News Network (Cal. Ct. App. - May 14, 2009)

On the one side we have the plaintiffs, who are several immigrant day laborers. On the other side we have the defendant, the Fox News Network. Lots of people are going to make up their mind right there -- without any of the facts at all -- about who should win.

Let me nonetheless describe the case for you. No, wait, I've got a better idea. I'll let Justice Aaron do it. Here are the first three paragraphs of her dissent, which encapsulate quite well both the facts of the case as well as the issues upon which the members of the panel disagree:

"MANHUNT AT THE BORDER" is blazoned across the bottom of the television screen. A "Wanted" poster displaying photographs of plaintiffs is shown. The caption on the poster says: "Wanted [—] Robbery, Assault and Battery." In introducing the segment, Alan Colmes, one of the two anchors of the telecast, states, "The San Diego Police are investigating an attack on an anti-illegal immigration advocate [John Monti] near a migrant's encampment close to the San Diego/Mexico border."

In spite of these facts, the majority reaches the remarkable conclusion that no reasonable person viewing this telecast would have concluded that plaintiffs were the subjects of a manhunt being conducted by law enforcement officers. Further, notwithstanding the absence of any other express or implied reference to a manhunt throughout the remainder of the telecast, the majority concludes, "[T]he only reasonable conclusion is that the caption ['MANHUNT AT THE BORDER'] refers to Monti's own search for plaintiffs and his belief that they should be charged with an assault crime."

The majority's conclusion is based on the notion that any reasonable viewer of the telecast would interpret the word "manhunt" in a manner that is inconsistent with any known definition of the term, and inconsonant with the context in which the term is used in the telecast. Because I cannot agree with the majority's reasoning or its conclusions, I dissent.

P.S. - The facts of the case are also pretty interesting, and leave one with a pretty lingering question as to how nutty (if at all) this guy Monti is -- or whether he's instead a guy who's repeatedly gotten the very short end of the stick.

P.P.S. - Can I also just say that I had to smile when I saw that one of Fox New's primary defenses was that the stuff it says in its news show is "merely hyperbole". Let me just put those various words together again. Fox News Network. Hyperbole. News. Hyperbole. Fox.