One of the great questions of our time came closer to resolution last week, when a federal court ruled that bloggers are journalists—at least when it comes to their First Amendment rights.
The Ninth Circuit ruled as such on Friday in Obsidian Finance Group v. Crystal Cox, a complicated case first decided in 2011. The court found that even though someone might not write for the “institutional press,” they’re entitled to all the protections the Constitution grants journalists.
In 2010, Crystal Cox—an “investigative blogger”—published a series of angry posts about Obsidian Finance Group and its partners, alleging tax fraud, money laundering, and other crimes. The posts appeared on a set of aptly (and memorably) named websites, including “obsidianfinancesucks.com.” Obsidian and one of its partners, Kevin Padrick, sued Cox, alleging defamation.
Only statements of apparent fact can be ruled defamation. When the case went to trial, Oregon district court Judge Marco Hernandez ruled that most of Cox’s entries were too hyperbolic to count as anything but opinion, and thus could not be considered defamation—except for one post, which the Oregon district decided was sufficiently factual. A jury awarded Obsidian and Padrick $2.5 million in damages for the libel.
The New York Times’s media reporter David Carr wrote about the case that year, ruling it less about journalism than Right and Wrong: “She didn’t so much report stories,” he said of Cox, “as use blogging, invective and search engine optimization to create an alternative reality.”