A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: false light

Can Manti Te’o’s ‘Girlfriend’ Sue?

Lennay Kakua

By Meghan Lalonde

Diane O’Meara, who was never a college football fan, now sees her name in headlines next to one of the biggest names in the game: Manti Te’o, the Heisman runner-up and all-star linebacker from the University of Notre Dame.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock recently, you probably know the story: her Facebook pictures were used to create the persona of “Lennay Kekua”, a woman Mr. Te’o described as his girlfriend. He was devastated when she was in a life threatening car accident, and crushed when she was diagnosed with, and later died from, leukemia.

At first the surreal story of a player’s strength and perseverance in the face of tragedy captivated national audiences, but it soon became something much different: one of the biggest hoaxes in the history of sports. Turns out that Lennay Kekua never died. In fact, she never existed. “She” was really a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former high school classmate of Ms. O’Meara’s.

Following a damning report by Deadspin, many wondered whether Mr. Te’o had been involved in the hoax to win sympathy votes for the Heisman trophy. But like Ms. O’Meara, Mr. Te’o maintains he was unaware of the hoax.

Mr. Tuiasosopo claims he didn’t create the fictional character to hurt anyone and that the relationship with Mr. Te’o was genuine. He denies he is gay but is clearly a troubled young man. We hope he can find a way to come to terms with what he did and who he is, and is able to forge a better future for himself.

So it’s not that we wish him any harm, but still…

Mr. Te’o thought he was whispering sweet nothings to an attractive young woman on the other end of the phone. Not to mention that he lives in the macho world of football, and is about to enter the NFL draft. There’s no question that Mr. Te’o was harmed, emotionally and perhaps even financially, by the scandal.

But what about Ms. O’Meara, whose likeness was used as the face for Mr. Tuiasosopo’s faux love affair? She’s hired a lawyer but so far, hasn’t sued. Can she?

LASIS lays out the odds for Ms. O’Meara in the great American indoor sport: the civil lawsuit. (more…)

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Angelina’s Lover Killed on Ski Trip?!

Brad and Angelina Snow

By Aleksandra Kravets

Relax. Brad Pitt is alive and well. But this is exactly how rumors start … and before you know it, they go mega-viral. Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, and 50 Cent, are only a few of the stars who’ve been recently targeted by false death hoaxes.

Entrepreneur Rich Hoover is partly to blame.

Mr. Hoover created Fakeawish.com, which allows anyone to plug a celebrity’s name into an online generator that creates morbid celebrity headlines, from jet-ski crashes in the tepid waters off the Turks and Caicos to snowboarding accidents in the glacial Swiss mountains.

For him, “no publicity is bad publicity” isn’t just an adage, it’s a career ethos.  False death reports harm nobody. It may even help them.  After all, he says “it’s free press.”

And a media expert will back him up.

Mark Bell, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University who studies deception in digital media, told the New York Times that there’s “not a lot of cost, either financially, morally, legally or criminally” in what Mr. Hoover does.

We weren’t sold on that theory.

Back in September, Jerry Springer was cruising down the highway when he heard the news of his death in a car crash. He had to pull over to call home and pacify his shaken wife, who, as he’d expected, had heard the false report, too. But what if his wife had been the one driving when she heard the report… and became so distraught that she crashed her car? Or, upon hearing the terrible news, took her own life?

LASIS investigates.

(more…)

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Maid Looking To “Clean Up” in Lawsuit

the-help-book-by-kathryn-stockett

 

By Dawn Mikulastik

 

For most people, being the inspiration for a character in a best selling novel would be a dream come true.  But 60-year-old southern housekeeper Ablene Cooper isn’t most people, and for her, it’s a nightmare.

In 2009, Kathryn Stockett’s best selling novel The Help chronicled the lives of Southern black maids and the white families who employed them in the 1960s.  But for Ms. Cooper, who works for Ms. Stockett’s brother as housekeeper and nanny, the character Aibileen Clark hits a little too close to home – and now she’s suing.

Last month, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported on the lawsuit that was filed on February 9 in Hinds County Circuit Court — and gave no indication of how this case will pan out. The complaint alleges “unpermitted” appropriation of Ms. Cooper’s identity, holding her to the public eye in a false light, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. LASIS investigates and asks: is Ms. Cooper likely to win on these claims?

Probably not. (more…)

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