On January 14, 2011, Obsidian Finance Group, LLC, and Obsidian Senior Principal Kevin Padrick filed a defamation suit in Oregon federal court against blogger Crystal Cox. The complaint alleged that Cox had written a number of false and defamatory statements on her website, obsidianfincancesucks.com, and on “other websites.” The statements quoted in the complaint involve “tax fraud,” “fraud against the government,” “hir[ing] a hitman,” and other statements.
The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable: “With the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and broadcast media … the line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.” Citizens United, 558 U.S. at 352. In defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and the public importance of the statement at issue — not the identity of the speaker — provide the First Amendment touchstones.