by Lannie Davis, The Hill
Under current U.S. legal precedent, parties filing suit and their attorneys have virtually absolute immunity for any false charges made in court filings. And making matters worse, once the public court filings have been made, the media have virtual immunity to report them as “allegations” — a word often ignored when the headline is explosive and scandalous.
Once someone is subject to a headline — say, that he or she is a “child molester” or guilty of “sexual abuse” — the misinformation echo-chamber of Internet search engines can make the charges a lifelong perception, with tens of thousands of “hits” sometimes in minutes or hours, and too many people perceiving truth just because of multiple repetitions on the Internet. And attempts to correct or rebut are usually ineffective.
Take a notorious example of the dangers of reckless and false charges aired in the courts — this one a criminal case. Some years ago, a physical education teacher in Northern Virginia was falsely accused by a young girl and her accomplice of molestation. He was labeled a child molester in headlines. But a jury acquitted him after just 47 minutes of deliberation. Jurors said they were outraged by the lack of evidence, with one weeping in sympathy during closing arguments. Yet his life will never be the same — he lost his job and had to move his family, and a Web search still associates his name with child molestation. Read the entire story.