The supreme Court will now entertain inquiries into a reporter's state of mind at the time he writes something libelous about a public figure.
It's no skin off my nose, but somebody should warn the court that a reporter's mind is very like Vietnam, easier to get into than to get out of.
Secondly, the high court authorizes inquiries into "editorial processes" bearing on the libel.
For example, what did the assorted editors and desk readers autually say at the time a decision was reached to publish the libel (I assume throughout that a genuine libel has occurred).
Now even worse than the jungles of the reporter's mind is the great bog of editorial judgment, the original slough of Despond.
Since many normal people do not understand how a story (or a libel) gets into prints, I shall reproduce the main points covered byany editorial meeting.
Here is a story by Dunstable Fretley, the music critic, in which he casually refers to the celebrated soprano, Lotte Ponderosa, in a libelous way, as it turns out
Let us join the editorial conference in which Fretley's words are mulled over by his superiors: "Now see here, Fretley," commences an editor, Grip Tarbuck, "it may be true that old bag, Ponderosa, is not what she was. But I question your remark that she sang 'The Trout' like Jonah trying to get out."
"Well, she did," said Fretley, heating
"How do you know Jonah sang in the whale?" inquired editor Cliff Densor idly.
"The question is not Fretley and Jonah," said Tim Tawn, who somehow managed to get through a third-rate law school and never gotover it, "but what is fair comment and what is not. Now I have no trouble with Miss Ponderosa getting out of the trout, or the whale, but I do have trouble with the remark that 'the marchelin, at least, knew when to throw in the towel, but Ponderosa never sang Rossini.'
"Now if that means anything, even within the somewhat odd framework of music criticism...."
"You great ass," said Fretley, "You great-" "Stop it," said Tarbuck. "The meaning is that Ponderosa is now unable to sing professionally, and this does raise the question whether we are not saying she is incompetent to earn her livelihood."
"Miss Quinceblossom urgently needs to speak to someone," interrupted Esther Boron, secretary.
"Dammit, Quinceblossom," barked her editor, Phil Mintsnap, enchanted to find a topic he had some competence in, "why didn't you take any money with you? The banks are closed until Monday. Phone the Brussels bureau to tide you over. And when you get to Rome-what the hell are you doing in Bruges, by the way? You aren't supposed to be in Bruges, dammit. Stop crying. Dammit, if you can't even get on the right-plane and...."
"Terribly sorry to interrupt. The publisher needs a moment with Tawn," says Miss Boron.
"No sir," says Tawn. "Only up to a point. You really should tell the kid to stay out of those places.
It's the third time. No, I'm not lecturing you, but you know as well as I do the newspaper can't make a phone call about it. Did he kill her? Well, thank God for that,"
The meeting speculates what the boy's trouble is this time when Tarbuck raps the table.
"We can get on while Tawn talks. Now about Ponderosa, we have to decide-"
"Does anybody know how old she is?" inquires Retro Recordo, the specialist in 1932 batting averages. "I don't know if it's relevant, but I doubt Fretley should be allowed to say original sinwas invented after Ponderosa's third Tosca."
"Original sin is a complicated technical matter," observed Farr Light, the resident metaphysics buff. "It certainly antedates even Ponderosa, and these wise-bottom critics should stick to music and leave religion alone. At the Lambeth Conference, in fact..."
"For Christ's sake, Farr, why don't you marry a bishop and get it out of your system?" blusters Tarbuck.
"Talk about cheap shots," cries Farr Light.
"Miss Quinceblossom again," says Miss Boron, who hopes the meeting is going to finish in time for her to meet this fellow for a drink but who does not want to say anything about it because she had just as soon not advertise things. "She says she's in Burgos, not Bruges, and wonders if she should still call Brussels. She says none of the signs are in English and do we have a bureau in Madrid?"
"Tawn," snaps Tarbuck, "if you're through with that kid, adn I gather he hasn't been shot yet, please talk to Miss Quinceblossom and try to straighten her out."
"Damn it all," said Fretley, "we've beee an hour discussing my review and all we've talked about is that nitwit Quinceblossom and what country Rome is in.
"What do you want me to say, that she's glorious? Well, bull. You don't want a critic, you want a pussycat. If lawyers were anotomically complete, it might be different. But with Tawn-"
"Tawn, sit down," said Tarbuck wearily. "Fretley, you are going to have to stop blowing up the minute anybody asks you a simple question. Now the question here is fair comment, and Fitz, Fitz, Fitz & Fitz have submitted a summary here for us on what is fair comment and what is not, and I want to read a few important points..."
"The Sons of Armageddon had a meeting with you at 3," said Miss Boran.
"Who the hell are the Sons of Armageddon?" asked Tarbuck, who was sure the day would never end, but first Fretley had to be squared away and here was some unexpected meeting with the sons of somebody. "Ask them to wait."
"Is Tawn still talking to Quinceblossom? Look, I've got to get to that interdepartmental meeting or it's my tail. Tell Tawn to go over the Fretley piece very carefully and cut what has to cut and to hell with Fretley."
Miss Boron, delighted at Tarbuck's exit, said of course.
But of course she forgot, what with rushing through her eye makeup and taking the side elevator to meet the fellow for cocktails.
Tawn, still smoldering a little at Fretley's comment on completeness, had two more calls before Quinceblossom was more or less solvent and the right lawyer was engaged for the kid in jail. Tarbuck, he guessed, had seen the unfairness of Fretley's review and had ordered some toning down.
So the thing appeared in print, original sin and Jonah and Rossini and all, and Miss Ponderosa sued for an enthusiastic evaluation of lost ticket sales to her concerts.
We now switch to the court and Judge Fudge:
"The court will admit an examination into the editorial processes by which the complained-of matter passed into print.
"Will Mr Tarbuck please take the stand."