Defamation By Omission – A Legal Explanation & Definition

Defamation by omission is when one person harms the reputation of another by neglecting to report or include vital information that significantly impacts the case. For example, let’s say you were charged with a crime, but were later acquitted. If a local newspaper then printed a story about your involvement in the crime, but failed to mention your absolution, that would be defamation by omission since the paper led people to believe you committed the act.

Moreover, if a journalist leaves out critical information, the publisher – not just the reporter – can be charged. In the same situation, if a blogger were to post stories about you – again leaving out your absolution — each individual post that does not include the disclaimer would constitute one act of defamation.

Defamation by omission, however, is a nuanced statute. To illustrate, if you are included in a news report, and the reporter forgets to mention something that would make you look better, but does not have a material effect on the framing of the story, you probably will lose a defamation by omission claim.

Examples Of A Few Current Defamation By Omission Cases

Rachel Maddow and Bradlee Dean are reportedly involved in a defamation by omission legal tussle.  In brief, Rachel Maddow is a left-leaning political pundit on MSNBC; Bradlee Dean is a conservative Christian rocker and youth minister. A couple of years ago, Dean made a comment on a radio show in which he allegedly lauded certain terrorists groups for fighting against homosexuality; he also made a disclaimer saying that he did not condone violence against the LGBT community. Maddow read Dean’s statement on air; she did include Dean’s caveat. Nevertheless, Dean sued Maddow for defamation claiming that she neglected to mention a disclaimer he had made about the controversial statement.

The obvious problem for Dean’s legal team is that she supposedly did make the statement Dean says she omitted, and it was aired. As such, all signs point to the case being dismissed.

In another high-profile defamation by omission case, Ex-American Idol contestant, Corey Clark, is suing MTV, Viacom and an MTV personality for defamation. According to reports, the defendants allegedly left out information about Clark being cleared of legal charges in a series of blog posts that ran for nearly five years.

Bloggers & Defamation By Omission

Bloggers must be especially careful about defamation by omission. In many ways, the name of the game these days is to get lots of content up, quickly. Being the first to post a story is still the goal of journalism. However, with the amount of content produced daily, sometimes the research is lacking. If you aren’t sure of all the information, or if your sources aren’t solid, don’t publish it. And remember, if you do several posts on the same topic, and omit precious information in each post – each post counts as one act of defamation – which can add up. Don’t try to sensationalize your posts, for hits, by omitting pertinent information.

Do you need to speak with a defamation attorney about a situation? If so, we’re here to help and answer any questions you may have. Kelly / Warner is an AV-rated firm, with a stellar defamation litigation reputation. Contact us today to get started.

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