He Said, She Said

Jeffrey Masson's libel suit against Janet Malcolm goes to trial. Can there be a real winner?

No matter the official outcome, in most libel suits everyone loses. The aggrieved plaintiff seeking to restore his reputation winds up giving far wider, more enduring publicity to the very allegations he wants to suppress. The accused journalist may win in court -- for First Amendment reasons, the rules are tilted in favor of the press -- but is less than certain of being vindicated. Often, a story that provokes a suit is legally defensible yet morally tainted by bias, animus or procedural lapses; the trial turns into a lesson in press ethics, with the reporter as the flustered pupil.


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