I'll start with the case of the distraught wife.
The June 5, 1971 edition of the Memphis Press-Scimitar carried the following article.
WOMAN HURT BY GUNSHOT
Mrs. Ruth A. Nichols, [address], was treated at St. Joseph Hospital for a bullet wound in her arm after a shooting at her home, police said.
A 40-year-old woman was held by police in connection with the shooting with a .22 rifle. Police said a shot was also fired at the suspect's husband.
Officers said the incident took place Thursday night after the suspect arrived at the Nichols home and found her husband there with Mrs. Nichols.
Witnesses said the suspect first fired a shot at her husband and then at Mrs. Nichols, striking her in the arm, police reported.
No charges had been placed.
Before you continue reading this post, pause and consider your first impression from reading the newspaper article. What did you think was going on?
Maybe I should have called this the case of the two distraught wives. One who was distraught enough to shoot at people, and another who was distraught enough to sue the newspaper for defamation.
The facts in the article were true, though. So the newspaper must have won. Right?
There were other facts--also true--that the newspaper left out. The article did not say that the shooter's husband was one of several people attending a party at the home. Or that Mr. Nichols was also present.
Without those facts, reasonable readers might have concluded that the shooter found her husband and Mrs. Nichols alone in the house and even in a compromising position, leading to the further conclusion that they were having an affair. That's enough for a defamation lawsuit.
So what do we learn from the case of the distraught wife?
Telling the truth isn't enough. While you don't have to give all the facts, your selection should not mislead the reader. Get your implications correct, too, or you may be guilty of defamation.
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Stay tuned for February's post on the case of the elderly flight attendant.
Kathryn Page Camp