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Dec 8, 2011

Another Settlement, As the "Twibel" Watch Continues

Our wait for the first American "twibel" trial -- a defamation trial stemming from comments post on Twitter -- continues, and another settlement has struck out another contender.

The Associated Press reports that it has settled a libel suit brought by National Basketball Association referee Bill Spooner over a tweet by AP sports reporter Jon Krawczynski during a Jan. 24 game between the Houston Rockets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Houston won, by the way.)

With 10 minutes and 22 seconds left in the second period, Spooner called a foul against Timberwolves player Anthony Tolliver. Minnesota Coach Kurt Rambis complained to Spooner about the call. During that conversation, according to Spooner's lawsuit, Spooner told Rambis that he would review the call at
halftime and get back to him about it. As Rambis walked away, according to the suit, he said "words to
the effect of, 'that's fine, but how do I get those points back?'"

Within the next 39 seconds, three fouls -- one offensive, one personal, one shooting -- were called against the Rockets. Spooner called two of these fouls, one of which he called simultaneously with another referee.

AP reporter Krawczynski, who reportedly was seated courtside about 15 to 20 feet away from where Spooner and Rambis had spoken after the first call, then sent out the following tweet:
Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d ‘get it back’ after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.
The tweet led Spooner to sue Krawczynski and the AP in federal court, seeking at least $75,000 in damages.

As I noted when the suit was first filed, the AP initially stood behind the facts reported in the tweet. But in a statement issued as part of the settlement, the news agency all but admits that Krawczynski probably misheard Spooner's comment.
AP and its reporter Jon Krawczynski learned through discovery that referee Bill Spooner and coach Kurt Rambis have both consistently and independently denied that Mr. Spooner told the coach ‘he’d get it back’ in an exchange that occurred after a disputed call against the Timberwolves on Jan. 24, 2011, as Mr. Krawczynski had tweeted from courtside that night. Mr. Spooner has testified that he instead told the coach he would ‘get back’ to him after reviewing videotape of the play during a halftime break.
The NBA promptly investigated at the time and concluded that Mr. Spooner had acted properly. AP was initially unaware of the investigation and does not contest the NBA’s finding. During the game, Mr. Krawczynski tweeted what he believed he had heard. Mr. Krawczynski acknowledges the possibility that he misunderstood what Mr. Spooner said and has therefore removed the Tweet from his APKrawczynski Twitter feed.
Besides issuing the statement and removing the tweet, as part of the settlement the AP also agreed to pay Spooner $20,000 to cover his legal fees.

So, like many of the other contenders for the title of first American twibel trial, another lawsuit is out of the running.

So, the "twibel" watch continues...

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