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Libel and Candor


I would like to thank Tyler Hayden for his reporting on the turmoil that has roiled City College this spring in the wake of the Michael Shermer speech.

I do, however, want to correct a factual error that Shermer made in his email exchange with the reporter.

The article stated:

In an email exchange with the Santa Barbara Independent, Shermer said the entire SBCC issue hinged on a statement made in Napoleon’s email and repeated in Wallace’s article that claimed “police did not bring formal charges against him…” Shermer said because Napoleon and Wallace refused repeated requests to retract the statement, his only recourse was through the courts.

This statement is inaccurate and asserts that The Channels editors resisted writing a correction to a single statement. In fact, from his first contact with The Channels, Shermer demanded the entire article be removed from the news site — and threatened the student reporter with a defamation lawsuit. His two cease-and-desist letters repeated the demand and the threat.

A “takedown” demand is not the same as a request to retract or correct a specific statement, fact or quotation. This is an important distinction, from both a legal and a newspaper staff’s point of view.

Had Shermer actually asked The Channels to publish a correction to the statement in question, it’s possible the students would have taken different steps. The Channels, like most news publications, is committed to correcting factual errors and has specific protocols for doing so.

So when I’m quoted in the article about how proud I am of my students, I’m referring to their refusal to remove an article from their news site that clearly was not libelous.

Associate Professor Patricia Stark chairs the SBCC Journalism Department and is student news media adviser for The Channels.

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