Media Held Liable for What Law Enforcement Tells Them?

Here’s a warning to journalists, and their employers, who regurgitate whatever law enforcement tells them, especially if they work in Minnesota.

Every day we are inundated by news stories of criminal behavior, murder, drug dealing, stealing. Many of these stories are built, sometimes verbatim, around press releases, provided by police or prosecutors and statements from either on-the-record or anonymous law enforcement sources.

What if that information is wrong? What if a suspect has been quickly cleared, though only after his name is splashed across the media properties?

In Minnesota, a wrongly accused man has sued media organizations after police held a press conference and announced his arrest in the 2012 killing of a police officer.

The media published stories based on the press conference. But investigators were wrong. The cleared man sued, not the police, but media for defamation. A jury found the statements published were defamatory but not false, so no damages for the plaintiff. A judge reversed the jury decision, and now a new trial will be scheduled for two news organizations, others initially sued settled out of court.

Experts believe the judge got it wrong and the decision will eventually be appealed. Meanwhile, the organizations have to pay increasing legal fees, regardless of whether they lose or win.

Media organizations should think about why they allow themselves to be used as a propaganda tool for law enforcement. Skepticism should be a priority.

 Statements at issue

  • Police say that man – identified as 34-year-old Ryan Larson – ambushed Officer Decker and shot him twice, killing him. (KARE)
  • Rosella holds no ill will against the man accused of killing her son. (KARE)
  • Ryan Larson, the man accused of killing Officer Decker, could be charged as early as Monday. (KARE)
  • Investigators say 34-year-old Ryan Larson ambushed the officer, shooting him twice. Larson is in custody. (KARE)
  • He was a good guy last night going to check on someone who needed help. That someone was 34-year-old Ryan Larson who investigators say opened fire on Officer Tom Decker for no reason anyone can fathom. (KARE)
  • Investigators believe he fired two shots into Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker, causing his death. (KARE)
  • Man faces Murder Charge (St. Cloud Times)