South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Confidential Media Sources Must Be Revealed to Establish Possible Malice
Description Minnesota high court held that in a defamation suit brought by a public figure, the plaintiff had the right to have reporters reveal their confidential sources. Knowledge of the sources was essential to showing that the defamatory statements were made with malice, a necessary condition for the plaintiff to have a chance of recovery.
Topic Torts
Key Words Defamation; Media; Confidential Source; Malice
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Weinberger, a high school football coach, sued a local newspaper and some school administrators for defamation. The newspaper published a number of negative stories about Weinberger about the time he was fired as coach. Most of the quotes were attributed to unnamed sources. Weinberger moved to have the identity of the sources revealed as that would be relevant to establish malice on the part of the defendants. The trial court agreed that the reporters should reveal the sources. The appeals court reversed and held that the sources were protected. Weinberger appealed to the Minnesota high court.
Decision

Reversed and remanded. Since the coach is a public figure, he must prove not only that the statements were false but that they were made with malice. That is when a statement is made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. While the law generally protects the confidentiality of news sources, when a plaintiff can show that the sources will provide evidence that will tend to prove or disprove that the defendants spoke with malice, the sources must be revealed. There is no other means available or remedy less destructive of First Amendment rights.

Citation Weinberger v. Maplewood Review, 668 NW2d 667 (Sup. Ct., Minn., 2003)

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