The New York Post's defense of its notorious Boston Marathon bombing cover has been met with contempt by the judge presiding over a legal battle between the paper and the two innocent men who have sued it for calling them "Bag Men" on its front page. They were never suspects in the bombings.
The men are seeking libel damages from the Post, which placed their pictures on its cover and said the FBI was looking for them just as the hunt for the Marathon bomber was at its peak. Libel cases are fairly difficult to win in the United States. The suit hinges on several factors, such as whether the judge decides that a "reasonable person" might have concluded that the men were suspects by looking at the front page, whether that is deemed to have been especially harmful to their reputations, and whether the Post is seen to have published recklessly false information about them. The two men probably have a better chance than many on at least several of these grounds.
In legal filings, the Post contended that, since it never definitively labeled the young men as suspects, there was no basis for a libel action. The paper's article was very carefully worded along these lines, even if the packaging was not. The Post sought to dismiss the suit on these grounds.
The Court is not persuaded. To the contrary, in the court’s view, a reasonable reader could construe the publication as expressly saying that law enforcement personnel were seeking not only to identify the plaintiffs, but also to find them, and as implying that the plaintiffs were the bombers, or at least investigators so suspected.
Fabricant goes in detail through all of the headlines the Post used, and through the actual article that accompanied them. Her conclusion is firm: an ordinary reader could easily come away with the impression that the men were somehow involved.
The judgment also outlines some of the harm visited upon the men when the front page was published; one of the men's bosses called the FBI on him, for instance, and they both received threats via social media.
Fabricant's ruling means that the libel case will go forward.
For more, read Wemple's analysis.