The Valley Patriot has put yet another libel lawsuit behind us.
The most recent suit, brought by a former Methuen Mayor alleging defamation and libel, never made it to trial. Last month, it was settled out of court to the satisfaction of both parties.
We tend to get sued a lot here at The Valley Patriot and we accept that as the cost of doing business. After all, calling out corrupt politicians and exposing deceitful public officials is not something that arrogant people with power respond well to.
Most of the lawsuits filed against us were designed to try and bankrupt us with enormous legal fees, not to actually win a verdict at trial. That strategy has never worked out well for them.
A few of those suits actually made it into a courtroom though, and on those cases, we were 100% victorious.
Despite the many lawsuits we have endured over the last 17 years, we have never lost.
But, that didn’t stop our competitors in the media from trying to use these court filings to try and humiliate and embarrass us. The Eagle~Tribune never once got a story right regarding our legal issues.
Tim Wood from the now defunct “Methuen Loop Weekly”, publicly stated that we would not only lose our most recent lawsuit, but that “this is a case that they are already teaching in journalism classes on what slander really is as a text book case of what not to do”. He further added that The Valley Patriot “will forever be associated with slander and defamation.”
It’s no wonder he and his newspaper are no longer here.
As First Amendment activists, we never worry about losing a case when we get sued. We never worry about the bogus stories in other publications, the time spent with lawyers or in court, or the way our detractors will use those lawsuits to try and drag us down.
The First Amendment is something we take very seriously and we are always willing to fight for it, even at great personal cost.
What we do care about when faced with a First Amendment lawsuit is keeping our word and protecting our sources who wish to remain anonymous.
And that’s no easy task, because unfortunately, Massachusetts has no “shield law” protecting the sources of reporters or other types of journalists.
This needs to change because it discourages whistleblowers from coming forward to expose wrongdoing of all kinds. It also puts reporters in a very bad position when power hungry political actors bring lawsuits just to find out who “dimed them out” on the story written about them.
Rest assured, we will be filing a bill at the State House through Senator DiZoglio and Representative Lenny Mirra in the coming months to try and rectify that situation. Massachusetts should offer the same protections to reporters and their sources as the State of New York currently offers. Sadly, we don’t.
We are happy to say that over the 17 years of getting sued by multiple parties, none of our sources have ever been in danger of being identified. That is something we are very proud to say.
When we give our word, we keep it. Period. It’s the only thing that matters to us. That’s why we call it the Valley Patriot family. We will always have the backs of those who entrust us with confidential information for a story, no matter what!
But we shouldn’t have to be faced with the choice of lying under oath to protect our sources, or go to jail for refusing to reveal their names.
The Massachusetts legislature needs to protect journalists and their sources, and we are going to do everything humanly possible to make sure that happens. ◊