Defamation Liability and the case of Vicki Iseman v. The New York Times – A Recap

Author: Attorney W. Coleman Allen, Jr.

The tort of defamation occurs when an individual, corporation or media outlet negligently publishes a false statement concerning a private individual, or in the case of a public figure, publishes a false statement with malice. The higher standard that must be met with regard to a public figure reflects the court’s efforts to balance the privacy rights of individuals with the First Amendment values that favor the free flow of information and robust debate of issues of public importance. In the case of Vicki Iseman v. The New York Times newspaper, the issue of whether or not the plaintiff Vicki Iseman was a public figure was central to the litigation.

The case was settled without that issue being resolved by the trial court, because the litigation was resolved through negotiations that concluded with a retraction by the New York Times and an agreed Joint Statement that corrected the public record and provided the complete vindication of Vicki Iseman that was the purpose of the suit. In addition, the settlement included a very unusual, if not unique feature in that the New York Times was required to publish in the electronic version of the paper an editorial authored by Ms. Iseman’s counsel, that further addressed the tremendous harm that can be done so easily to the reputations and wellbeing of private individuals, as “collateral damage,” when they are implicated in stories of national and even international interest involving public figures.

The suit was resolved without payment, due to the opportunity to obtain at an early stage of the litigation a complete retraction and a joint statement that restored Ms. Iseman’s reputation, in addition to the published editorial commentary that was intended to promote meaningful discussion within the national media, as well as schools of law and of journalism, concerning the fundamental importance of properly balancing the protection of individual rights with regard to reputation and one’s “good name,” against the need for open and vigorous public discourse concerning the significant issues of the day.

To read the full statement from Vicki Iseman’s attorneys, W. Coleman Allen, Jr. and Rodney A. Smolla, published on on February 19, 2009, click below:

Source: “Statement from Iseman’s Lawyers.” February 19, 2009:

To read the Virginia Lawyers Weekly story regarding the settlement of the defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, published on February 23, 2009, click below:

Source: “Lobbyist, NYT settle $27M defamation lawsuit.” By Paul Fletcher and Alan Cooper. February 23, 2009.