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Sen. Ray Scott
Sen. Ray Scott (KKCO 11 News)
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Grand Junction Daily Sentinel publisher blinks first in ‘fake news’ face-off with Colorado state senator

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Some might say state Sen. Ray Scott got lucky and dodged a bullet; others might say he was robbed of a chance to vindicate himself in court. Either way, the Grand Junction Republican — who found himself in a dustup a couple of months ago with his hometown daily newspaper after he accused it of peddling “fake news” — won’t be facing a lawsuit by the paper’s publisher after all.

You may recall Grand Junction Daily Sentinel chief exec Jay Seaton had threatened to sue Scott for libel in February after the veteran lawmaker tweeted:

Scott’s Feb. 9 tweet, in turn, had been prompted by the newspaper’s editorial a day earlier insinuating that Scott was bottling up legislation the newspaper liked; it was a bill that improved access to public records.

Scott said he was doing no such thing and in fact had been trying to line up stakeholder input to improve the bill. Scott said the editorial’s accusation was unfair, off-base and just plain wrong.

Seaton said Scott’s use of the buzz phrase “fake news” as a comeback was just as off-base and in fact had impugned the journalistic integrity and basic credibility of his news organization. Which is why Seaton took things a step further, as ColoradoPolitics.com’s Joey Bunch noted at the time, threatening his suit and turning the tiff into a “journalist-bites-dog” affair that made national headlines.

Well, never mind.

In a commentary in this past Sunday’s Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Seaton now has called the whole thing off. He said, among other considerations, he feared sticking Colorado taxpayers with the tab for Scott’s legal defense:

When a state senator accused The Sentinel of being fake news, he was deliberately attempting to delegitimize a credible news source in order to avoid being held accountable by it. I have consulted outside counsel about the claim, and the merits remain sound.

That said, there are some non-merits-related issues that give me pause. First — and this came as a surprise to me — a member of the state Senate can have the taxpayers of Colorado fund his or her legal defense.

Seaton also offered this:

…there is the defense (for Scott) that words no longer mean what they have always meant.

This is the defense that the definition of the term “fake news” has lost its objective meaning and now represents some kind of general pejorative for things we don’t like. It’s a good defense because it would mean that a label of “fake news” applied to a legitimate news organization is actually protected opinion, not defamation.

I take a dim view of this defense…

Words have real meanings, and in the case of fake news, recent tangible examples. Linguists say it takes years to change the meaning of words. But when the term gets abused almost daily, who knows what a jury might say?

Which sounds a lot like he thinks he might lose. So, no lawsuit.

Scott meanwhile seems bewildered by the latest development as well as the whole saga. He told our Joey Bunch late Monday, “It’s just weird.”

“The whole thing … is bizarre,” he said. “Now if I say this is a ridiculous op-ed he wrote, is he going to sue me? People can interpret that however they want, because it is bizarre and it is strange. Do I get sued for saying that?”

So, what are the rest of us to make of it all? Senate GOP press officer Sean Paige snarked this quick take via his personal Twitter account on Monday:

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