Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Case of the Distraught Wife

This year my blog posts will focus on interesting cases involving writers. And yes, interesting cases do exist.

I'll start with the case of the distraught wife.

The June 5, 1971 edition of the Memphis Press-Scimitar carried the following article.


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.

* * * * *

Stay tuned for February's post on the case of the elderly flight attendant.

Kathryn Page Camp


  1. Hey Kathryn, what a great blog series this will be from you! I'm not going to want to miss even one. . . :-)

    1. Millie, thanks for your comment. The "case of" concept worked for Earl Stanley Gardner, so hopefully it will work for me, too.

  2. Very interesting story, and well told.

    One thing to remember is that omissions can change the truth to a lie as much as a falsification.

    Also, I didn't think the paper's coverage was written well, even without the false impression. It could be just me, but I first thought that Mrs. Nichols was the 40 year old woman held by the police. And it's strange that the only name mentioned (at least in your article) is one of the victims.

    Thanks for sharing this.


  3. Kathryn,
    I do not normally read Hoosier Ink, but Jeff knew that I would find your blog interesting. He was right. I look forward to another "episode." I'll remember - get your implications right. God's blessings to you! Becky

  4. Jeff, I used the entire article (except the address) as reprinted in the court case, and the opinion did not indicate that it left anything out. Although most people wouldn't think of Memphis as a small town, the article has a definate small town newspaper feel to it.

    Thanks to both you and Becky for your comments.