A couple of weeks ago, we reported that a small newspaper, the Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph, was taking Michael Moore to task for one of the many lies in Fahrenheit 9/11. In the movie, Moore showed the front page of the Pantagraph, purportedly on December 19, 2000, with the headline: “Latest Florida recount shows Gore won election.”
In reality, the Pantagraph never ran such a headline, probably because every Florida recount showed that President Bush carried the state. On December 5, however, the paper did run a small headline containing those words–over a letter to the editor, which the paper said reflects “only the opinions of the letter writer.” Moore took that headline, blew it up, and put it on the top of the front page as if it were a news headline. This was his “evidence” for the proposition that Gore really won the election.
Typical Michael Moore. The Pantagraph, however, didn’t think Moore’s misrepresentation of its front page was funny, and sent him a letter demanding an apology and a symbolic $1 in compensation.
Today, the paper said that it got a letter from Moore’s lawyer, refusing to apologize or pay the dollar. Moore’s lawyer didn’t deny that he substituted a headline that described the opinion of a letter-writer for the main headline on the paper’s front page. Instead, he made the legal argument that Moore’s use of the paper and its fictitious headline fell under the legal doctrine of “fair use.” He also denied that the paper had suffered damage to its reputation. (He may have a point there. Falsely reporting the results of the Florida recounts would no doubt raise the Pantagraph’s image in the eyes of Moore’s fans.)
Moore, a very rich man, can afford the finest counsel, and it’s unlikely that the Pantagraph would consider litigation over the issue to be a wise use of its more limited resources. So Moore will get away with his lies again.
On a personal note, I spent a lot of time in Bloomington a few years ago when I had a big case there, and worked with the Pantagraph’s lawyer, Casey Costigan.
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