Televangelist Can Sue|ABC for Defamation

     (CN) – Televangelist Dr. Frederick Price can pursue defamation claims against ABC and “20/20” correspondent John Stossel for broadcasting a clip of Price talking about wealth out of context, the 9th Circuit ruled.

     On March 23, 2007, ABC broadcast a program entitled “Enough” on “20/20.”
     Part of the program was a report on wealthy preachers who were investigated by the non-profit watchdog group Ministry Watch, which is dedicated to improving the transparency and accountability of Christian ministries.
     The network broadcast a clip of a sermon delivered by Price where he says, “I live in a 25-room mansion. I have my own $6 million yacht. I have my own private jet, and I have my own helicopter, and I have seven luxury automobiles.”
     Price says he was not boasting about his own wealth as the clip suggested. He says he was speaking from the perspective of a hypothetical person who, although wealthy, was spiritually unfulfilled, according to the ruling.
     ABC broadcast a retraction acknowledging the mistake, but Price filed a defamation suit against the network.
     The trial court dismissed his claims, concluding that Price could not prove that the network’s broadcast of the clip was false within the meaning of defamation law, because Price had elsewhere made similar statements about his own wealth.
     On appeal, a three-judge panel based in Pasadena disagreed and ruled that Price could proceed with his defamation claims because the district court erred by comparing the statements in the clip with Price’s actual wealth and possessions, and agreeing with the network that the clip was “substantially true” based on that comparison.
     “Under controlling Supreme Court precedent on when journalists’ misquotations of statements made by public figures are false for purposes of establishing actual malice, there is a substantial likelihood that Price can establish that the publication of the clip was false,” Judge Mary Schroeder wrote.
     Price owns a $4.6 million, 8,000-square-foot house, travels around the world in a private Gulfstream jet owned by the church, owns a Rolls Royce, wears an $8,500 watch, and serves as chief executive officer of the church’s $40 million budget, the ruling says.

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