Tue Jan 20, 2009 @ 01:03AM PST
By Eriq Gardner
Members of the Dixie Chicks have a knack for getting themselves into prickly situations. Now, lead vocalist Natalie Maines and the band are defendants in a lawsuit from a man she suggested on the band's website might be responsible for the murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.
Maines reviewed the sensational 1994 case of the West Memphis Three in an open letter to fans in 2007. She became interested in the subject after seeing a pair of HBO documentaries called "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Lost 2." Damien Echols was convicted of the crime, but some evidence pointed to another man, Terry Hobbs.
Maines donated to Echols' defense fund and received a warm letter from Echols' wife. She then posted her missive pointing blame in Hobbs' direction. That's when Hobbs sued for defamation, according to this November complaint posted by Courthouse News.
A key question about this case surrounds whether Maines can assert a "fair report privilege." The media is typically protected from liability whenever an outlet relies upon official public documents or statements to report information — even false information that might be held as defamatory under normal circumstances.
Maines is obviously not a journalist in the traditional sense—but isn't posting information on a website what any blogger does, and if so, do bloggers enjoy fair report privilege? A good question.