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Olympic-Size Lawsuit

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Olympic-Size Lawsuit

Article excerpt

Snafu has The New York Times on a slippery slope

The New York Times has asked a federal judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by a former Utah state lawmaker over a photograph the paper published linking him to the scandal-plagued bid by Salt Lake City to be chosen as the site for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

In a case of mistaken identity, the Times thought it was publishing a photograph of Craig Peterson, a former Olympic-bid organizing committee financial officer who was cited in an ethics report on the circumstances surrounding Salt Lake City's attempt to win the right to host the sports event.

Instead, the Times ran a picture, provided by The Associated Press, of former Utah State Senate Majority Leader Craig Peterson, who was not connected with the Olympics or ethics probe. He now runs a lobbying and engineering-consulting business.

An AP spokeswoman says it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the litigation.

Roger Hoole, Peterson's lawyer, recently asked the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to dismiss an earlier motion made by the Times to toss the case out. The original lawsuit was filed in April.

The Times filed its dismissal motion in June, defending its action by using what is called the "wire-service defense." The paper argues that it's not responsible for the mistake that was made by the AP in providing the wrong photograph. The case is being heard before Judge Dale Kimball, who may rule next month on whether or not to dismiss Peterson's lawsuit.

"The problem with this lawsuit against the Times is that the Times was in no way responsible for this error. It was an entirely innocent conduit in the publication of the photograph," says the Times' legal filing.

The complaint against the Times does not contend "actual malice" on the part of the paper, but alleges the paper "acted negligently in publishing the false statements about Craig A. Peterson."

The photograph was published Feb. 10 of this year, along with an article headlined, "Excerpts: Questionable Relationships and Unexplained Payments," which was made up of verbatim extracts from a report issued the previous day by an internal ethics committee of the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee.

The unbylined story ran on Page C24 in the sports section with three accompanying photographs, including the one of Peterson. …

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