Administrative Law Judge Barbara L. Neilson on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by Norm Coleman against Al Franken over an ad which said a “bipartisan watchdog group” said Coleman was the country’s 4th most corrupt senator.
Prepare yourself for the headlines that say “Judge rules Coleman is 4th most corrupt senator.” There hasn’t been much subtlety in the Senate race and there’s no reason to think this story is going to break the drought.
Here’s the decision (which was provided by the Franken campaign).
The facts of the case are that the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington put out a list of representatives and senators it says engaged in “unethical and sometimes illegal activities.”
The Franken ad reported that the group said Coleman was the 4th most corrupt senator because he was one of four on the list.
Does this mean that Coleman is corrupt? No. It also doesn’t mean he’s not.
Neilson didn’t rule on CREW’s methodology. The suit wasn’t against CREW; it was against Franken, and she said Minnesota law
For a violation of section 211B.06 to be found, two requirements must be met: (1) a person must intentionally participate in the preparation, dissemination or broadcast of false campaign material; and (2) the person preparing, disseminating, or broadcasting the material must know that the item is false, or act with reckless disregard as to whether it is false. As interpreted by the Minnesota Supreme Court, the statute is directed against false statements of fact. It is not intended to prevent criticism of candidates for office or to prevent unfavorable deductions or inferences derived from a candidate’s conduct. In addition, expressions of opinion, rhetoric, and figurative language are generally protected speech if, in context, the reader would understand that the statement is not a representation of fact.
The burden of proving the falsity of a factual statement cannot be met by showing only that the statement is not literally true in every detail. If the statement is true in substance, inaccuracies of expression or detail are immaterial.19 A statement is substantially accurate if its “gist” or “sting” is true, that is, if it produces the same effect on the mind of the recipient which the precise truth would have produced. Where there is no dispute as to the underlying facts, the question whether a statement is substantially accurate is
one of law.
The ad was determined to be substantially true because CREW made an assertion, and Franken was substantially accurate in relaying what the assertion was. The means by which CREW came to its conclusion was not the point of the suit nor the decision.