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Politicos beware: Nevada jury says campaign mudslinging was libel

Mud fight

Nevada politics are not for the squeamish. Last fall, this reporter’s mailbox was overrun with attacks of questionable veracity: a county commission candidate was painted as a shady telemarketer whose buddies ripped off senior citizens; a state lawmaker, who is also a physician, was accused of casting votes that harmed cervical cancer patients.

By comparison, the insults exchanged between state Sen. Mike Schneider, a Democrat, and Danny Tarkanian in 2004 seem like child’s play. Ads suggested Tarkanian – the son of Jerry Tarkanian, the infamous University of Nevada, Las Vegas, basketball coach – was involved with companies that victimized the elderly and had socialized with illegal bookmakers.

Tarkanian, who lost in a district so Democratic that, according to Schneider, “Ronald Reagan could not get elected,” took the matter to court. As a public figure, Tarkanian had to prove his opponent made false allegations maliciously.

Last week, jurors – possibly fed up with political campaigns as clean as mud wrestling – sided with Tarkanian in his libel and defamation suit. In turn, Schneider agreed to a $150,000 settlement and said he had no plans to appeal. Political bigwigs here were understandably stunned at the verdict and its possible implications.

Schneider told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “I believe this decision will have devastating ramifications on future campaigns and a chilling effect on free speech in general.”

We’ll soon find out. In 2010, Nevadans can expect warfare over the governor’s office and the seat of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And, perhaps, mailboxes less packed with campaign vile.

-- Ashley Powers

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Photo: No, those aren't politicians. They're concert-goers at the All Points West music festival in Jersey City, N.J., on Sunday. Credit: Associated Press

 
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Schneider told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “I believe this decision will have devastating ramifications on future campaigns and a chilling effect on free speech in general.”
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Freedom to speak doesn't mean the same thing as freedom to lie, especially when it causes harm. If the chilling effects only the freedom to lie, then it works out ok.

Freedom to lie causes harm and keeps us from progressing as we should in the areas of climate change, health care reform, regulating the financial industry, etc., etc.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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