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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Columbia Journalism Review Defamed Her, Woman Says

MANHATTAN (CN) - A woman claims in court that the Columbia Journalism Review defamed her by republishing false statements from a 1960s article that painted her as a runaway hippie high on drugs.

Margaret Won sued the Columbia Journalism Review, Bruce Porter and Daniel Loewenthal, in Federal Court.

Porter, 74, is a retired Newsweek editor and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism professor. He worked for various publications, including the Columbia Journalism Review, the school's bimonthly publication.

Won, a retired real estate developer from Flint, Mich., claims Porter wrote about her in 1967, when she was 19.

Porter's "sensationalistic front cover story," titled "Gentle Marcy: A Shattering Tale," appeared in Newsweek, and is attached to the complaint.

Won claims Porter not only misrepresented her in the article, but mentioned her first name and home town, after promising her anonymity.

The 1967 article falsely stated that Won ran away from home at 17, engaged in heavy drug use, had casual sex, paid $200 for an illegal abortion, and lived with a drug dealer, according to the lawsuit.

"In the wake of publicity from the Newsweek article, the radio station WNEW broadcasted what they described as an interview with Marcy which included a phone call to her mother," the complaint states.

"In fact, the 'interview' was done in the private home of one of WNEW's reporters who did not disclose to plaintiff that any recording was being made during their conversation and plaintiff at no time consented to being recorded. Parts of this recording, including plaintiff's private phone call, were later adopted by several music groups in the United Kingdom and made a part of their songs.

"For nearly four decades, by Porter's own admission, he continued to publicly discuss plaintiff's story and his interaction with her surrounding the Newsweek article in classes he taught at Brooklyn College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism as an example of his own experience exercising poor ethics in journalism."

Neither WNEW nor Newsweek are parties to the lawsuit.

Then, Won claims, Porter published two follow-up stories in the November/December 2012 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, restating some of the defamatory material from the 1967 article, and again using her name without permission.

"In the first CJR article, Porter acknowledged that he violated the conditions of plaintiff's consent to the interview used in the Newsweek article by revealing her first name and home town and admits that therefore plaintiff was not protected by anonymity," the complaint states.

"In describing his experience listening to the WNEW recording made after the Newsweek article he wrote, 'When she came on the air, you could tell from her speedo speech she was flying high. Much to my dismay, she led off by saying how devastated she'd been by the Newsweek article. This reporter had paid her for the interview, she said, and promised not to use her name, only he did. I'd also mentioned Flint, so her parents could easily identify her, something I hadn't bothered to consider.'"

Won claims the 2012 article identified her immediate family and described Porter's search for her, at Loewenthal's suggestion.

Loewenthal, a documentary filmmaker, persuaded Porter to write the follow-up story and documented the search for Won on his camera, according to the complaint.

Won, who moved back to her home town after working in Hawaii for years, says Porter and Loewenthal tracked her down through the local newspaper, which published a front-page article about their quest for her.

She claims Porter and Loewenthal pressured her to give another interview and sign releases for Loewenthal's video footage.

Porter also gave an interview in December 2012 in which he recounted Marcy's story and claimed that his editor at Newsweek had suggested leaving her real name in the article, according to the complaint.

"The second CJR article begins with a statement 'editors' note' which acknowledges that plaintiff was unhappy with the inaccuracies in the first CJR article and 'was unhappy about having her saga retold in CJR,'" the complaint states.

"Despite the editors' note, the second CJR article goes on to state plaintiff's maiden name again and admits that there is no independent source for any of the information in the Newsweek article which was republished in the first CJR article other than Porter's own notes."

Won claims that Porter, who acknowledged he had "used her like some disaster mannequin," maliciously repeated the false claims about her in the two articles and exploited her personal story all over again.

She claims the Columbia Journalism Review never reached out to her to fact check the articles, and used her name and picture without her consent.

She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defamation and invasion of privacy.

She is represented by Maxim Waldbaum with Eaton & Van Winkle.

Attorneys for Won and the Columbia Journalism Review did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Porter could not be reached for comment.

The Columbia Journalism Review, founded in 1961, functions in part as a self-appointed watchdog of journalistic standards and ethics.

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