But First Amendment fans--not to mention TV news reporters--will be heartened by a decision by an El Paso, Texas, jury Wednesday that cleared tube newsman Ed Bradley of libel in a 60 Minutes investigation.
Back in October 1995, Bradley filed a report called "The Other America." In that piece, the veteran CBS correspondent examined shanty-town homes--known as "colonias"--in the Texas desert along the U.S.-Mexico border. The colonias were designed for low-income, mainly Hispanic families. Critics say the colonias were thrown up with little or no concern for sanitary conditions.
The woman who built the shanties, El Paso developer Deborah Kastrin, claimed Bradley's report wrecked her reputation and falsely accused her and other members of her family of unethical business and political practices. She sued for defamation.
During the trial, Kastrin's attorney argued that life in the colonias was no less healthy than in the affluent residential neighborhoods of nearby El Paso.
A CBS lawyer countered, saying in closing arguments that 60 Minutes never claimed the Kastrins did anything illegal. But he added: "If the problem of colonias is to be dealt with, and if these people are ever going to get running water and sewage, then the press must be free to report the truth about colonias."
The jury agreed and cleared Bradley and 60 Minutes.
Kastrin declined to speak to reporters after Wednesday's verdict but later released a statement saying she and her family have "done nothing illegal, they have not taken advantage of or deceived the buyers of lots," it said.
Meanwhile, a beaming Bradley embraced his lawyers after hearing the verdict. "There was nothing in that broadcast that was false," said Bradley, who had testified during the civil case. "Sometimes the truth hurts. But there was nothing we said that wasn't true."