Lopa Blumenthal says she knows how today’s news cycles go. “I understand that the media’s fickle,” she says.
Yet she says she’s “not going to tolerate” the treatment she received this morning on CNN’s “New Day” morning program. As reported on this blog, a CNN law-enforcement commentator, Tom Fuentes, said of an audiotape whose release Blumenthal had negotiated with CNN on Monday: “When I heard this yesterday, I thought the exact same thing — it’s a hoax,” said Fuentes, who clarified that he was ultimately unsure of its status.
“Hoax” sticks with Blumenthal, who stumbled into representing someone who was allegedly taping a chat with a “girl” on Aug. 9 at the time that 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. was shot in Ferguson, Mo.; it features a voice whispering flattery to the “girl” punctuated by about 10 apparent gunshots. Blumenthal vouches for the integrity of the person who made the recording but concedes that it hasn’t yet been authenticated by the FBI or by various news organizations. It’s one thing to note that authentication is pending, however, and quite another to use the word “hoax” in connection with her efforts, says Blumenthal.
“I’m not going to tolerate being maligned and have malicious intent applied,” she says.
Toward that end, Blumenthal today contacted CNN’s Don Lemon as well as another staffer at the network to plead her case. “I need some form of redress,” she says. “My demand would be to not only do a retraction but to basically say that when CNN aired it they were fully aware of the fact that it wasn’t fully authenticated, and they decided to air it in any case with the disclaimer.”
It’s the turnabout that rankles Blumenthal. The way she narrates the story, a “prior client” of hers alerted her to the recording, which was made by the roommate of the “prior client.” Blumenthal felt it was important to make sure that the authorities got a hold of the recording, though she wasn’t intent on a massive media rollout. But CNN called, and she cooperated with the network on the terms under which the network presented the material to its viewers — for example, she insisted that only the audio component of the recording — and not the video, which would have outed the recorder — would be aired on CNN. To then watch as the network’s law enforcement analyst chat about a “hoax” was a bit much for the St. Louis area lawyer.
“I’m not going to sit back and take this,” she says. “This is affecting my community — people are discussing it. My business exists on the work that I do, which means nothing if people think that I have no integrity.”
The “New Day” segment in question actually leaves open-ended the question of the tape’s authenticity, though both Fuentes and former LAPD official David Klinger expressed some doubts. Here is a transcript of the key exchanges:
CO-HOST MICHAELA PEREIRA: Do you think it’s authentic?
DAVID KLINGER, FORMER LAPD OFFICER: I have no idea. I mean, I’ve told your producers that, for all I know, this is something, one of Howard Stern’s punk people have been doing. You know, it came out, what, two weeks after the event. So I don’t have a high degree of confidence in it, but it could be real.
Tom, let me turn to you then. Give us an idea, because we know the FBI has this. What is the process for authenticating a recording or a tape like this?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, OK, when I heard this yesterday I thought the exact same thing — it’s a hoax, but maybe not. Maybe they’ll be able to authenticate it.
When asked whether those constitute opinions protected from libel claims, Blumenthal responds that the commentators were characterizing “motivations” that they knew “nothing about.” And that’s libelous, she maintains. That said, she insists she’s not about to bring a defamation suit over this stuff. She’s more interested in getting the air cleared. Already, she says, clients have checked in with her asking if there’s any truth to the “hoax” thing. “I’m out here in the real world and I have to deal with the consequences of their actions,” she says.
The Erik Wemple Blog is awaiting a comment from CNN.