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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 12:13 PM ET, 07/06/2011

New York Post libel suit: A quantitative analysis

A libel suit is nothing but a tract of media criticism with a demand for damages at the end. By that measure, the civil suit filed against the New York Post by lawyers for the accuser in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case succeeds:

“In an apparent desperate attempt to bolster its rapidly plunging sales, Defendant New York Post ran a series of defamatory articles regarding the Plaintiff. . .

The objectionable stories cited in the suit ran over the July 4th holiday weekend. They allege that the accuser works as a “prostitute,” a “hooker” and a “working girl.” The complaint, drafted by attorneys Kenneth P. Thompson and Douglas H. Wigdor, provides a thorough inventory of what it terms “repeated acts of defamation” and states repeatedly that the New York Post “knew, or should have known” that the statements were false before publication.

What the libel action doesn’t do is deploy the Erik Wemple Blog Quantitative Defamation Meter. Fancy name notwithstanding, the Erik Wemple Blog Quantitative Defamation Meter performs the simple function of placing the number of potentially defamatory statements in a given story alongside the number of named sources and documents buttressing those statements. Below, the meter takes on but one of the New York Post stories subject to the suit.

Story: “Maid Cleaning Up as ‘Hooker’”

Byline: Laura Italiano

Date: July 2, 2011

INVENTORY OF POTENTIALLY DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS:

1) “Maid Cleaning Cleaning Up as ‘Hooker’ ”

2) “Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser wasn’t just a girl working at a hotel — she was a working girl.” (Disclosure: The Erik Wemple Blog Quantitative Defamation Meter does not judge the triteness of newspaper copy or whether it is offensive per se to women. Those questions are beyond the scope of this exercise.)

3) “The Sofitel housekeeper who claims the former IMF boss sexually assaulted her in his room was doing double duty as a prostitute, collecting cash on the side from male guests, The Post has learned.”

4) “ ‘There is information . . . of her getting extraordinary tips, if you know what I mean.’ ”

5) “The woman also had ‘a lot of her expenses — hair braiding, salon expenses — paid for by men not related to her.’ ”

6) “Allegations that she worked as a hotel hooker may explain why Strauss-Kahn insists their encounter was consensual. His defense attorneys refused yesterday to comment on the damning evidence — or say whether he paid her for sex.”

7) “Sources also told The Post Strauss-Kahn’s probers uncovered evidence that she was part of a pyramid scheme that targeted immigrants from her native Guinea. ‘We have people who have been victimized, who have claimed she ripped them off. Nice working people from her neighborhood,’ a source said.”

NUMBER OF ON-THE-RECORD SOURCES:

0

Explanation: Repeated contentions that the accuser was/is a prostitute rest on information from a single, unnamed source. The most that the New York Post reveals about the source is that it is “close to the defense investigation.” Yet that same source is quoted as an expert on the activities of the union that represents hotel workers: “ ‘When you’re a chambermaid at Local 6, when you first get to the US, you start at the motels at JFK [Airport]. You don’t start at the Sofitel,’ the source said. ‘There’s a whole squad of people who saw her as an earner.’ ”

So the single, unnamed source is both close to the defense investigation and an apparent expert in union chambermaid assignments.

There is an on-the-record source in the New York Post piece. It’s a union official who chimes in to dispute the New York Post’s reporting on the union situation. The quote is buried many paragraphs after the paper airs its prostitution allegations.

ERIK WEMPLE BLOG QUANTITATIVE DEFAMATION METER READING

7/0

Elementary school math teaches us that any fraction with a denominator of zero is undefined, a word that also works well for the editorial standards of the New York Post.

By  |  12:13 PM ET, 07/06/2011

 
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