AP Sportwriter Says It’s True

posted on March 15 about NBA ref Bill Spooner’s suing an AP sportswriter for defamation based on a the sportswriter’s tweet that Spooner promised Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis that The T-Wolves would “get one back” right before Spooner whistled a make-up call on the Houston Rockets. Apparently, Jon Krawczynski is sticking by his story and asserting truth as his defense. And “truth” in defamation cases means “substantial truth” — that is, not every word reported has to be accurate, so long as the overall “gist” is correct. So we’ll see. But there is some interesting maneuvering going on in the case already. Spooner seems to go out of his way in his complaint to talk about his private nature, and his efforts to avoid the public. There’s a very simple explanation for that. He wants the court to treat him as a private figure. If it does, Spooner need only prove that Krawczynski was negligent when he tweeted those words. That means Spooner could win if Krawczynski made an innocent mistake. Krawczynski, on the other says in his answer that, as an NBA official, Spooner is a public figure. If so, Spooner would have to prove that Krawczynski made the tweet with “actual malice” – meaning that he knew what he was writing was false. But Spooner may have hurt his own case with his complaint. In it, he makes a specific reference to former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was convicted of fixing games. Spooner contends that Krawczynski’s tweet accuses Spooner of fixing the game Krawczynski was covering. That strikes me as odd for two reasons. First, if Krawczynski’s tweet is considered part of a bigger story on NBA integrity, then it sounds like a matter of public concern – there are a lot of fans, sponsors, teams, etc. who rely on the integrity of officials. And if it’s a matter of public concern, then Spooner sounds more like a public figure. And that’s not what he wants to be. Second, it’s kind of a stretch to say that the tweet accused Spooner of fixing the game. One bad call, followed by one make up call in the first half is hardly outcome determining. Krawczynski was commenting more on Spooner’s incompetence than his integrity. Krawczynski will have an easier time saying “I never said he was a fixer” than he will saying “I never said he was incompetent.” Spooner may have made this case harder for himself than he needed to. Of course, Spooner already has ignored the NBA’s advice not to file the suit in the first place. Which makes him a lot like the referees in my daughter’s basketball games. Those guys never seem to listen to my advice. No matter how loud I yell.