Dear Editor,

I note that on page 1 of Kaieteur News yesterday (Friday, May 24) there is a headline: “Wrong Poonai accused of fraud, Kaieteur News apologises unreservedly.” This is followed by a news story on its page 20 where the newspaper explains what happened, and again apologises.

I suppose this calls to mind the Guyanese expression: “Is not only one dog named Pompey.”

Among my acquaintances there seems to be now a vigorous debate over this matter from the standpoint of the duty of care that newspapers need to exercise before printing stories.  I take the position that even great newspapers in the developed world sometimes get their facts wrong, and later have to retract, apologise, and pay damages. There is, of course, the matter of the considerable outrage that will be felt over this seeming attack on the efficiency of the selection process, and the integrity of those involved.  This seems yet to be addressed by the newspaper.

I recall that earlier this year US President Donald Trump’s wife Melania threatened to sue the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, over a story it had carried about her. The Telegraph later reported: “As a mark of our regret we have agreed to pay Ms Trump substantial damages as well as her legal costs.”

This was not the first time that Ms Trump successfully challenged the British Press over inaccurate reporting.  She received damages and an apology from the Daily Mail in 2017 after bringing a libel action against that tabloid.

So serious errors do happen.

I recall that during the 1940’s and 1950’s when I was a free-lance writer at the Chronicle on Main Street, the Chronicle had lifting rights for the Daily Mirror newspaper, and used to print, particularly, a series of articles by a British barrister named William Connor who used to write for the Mirror under the pen name: Cassandra.  His articles were always vigorous and hard-hitting.

In those days, homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain, and readers seemed to flock to buy the News of the World where many juicy stories of homosexual cases being tried in the British Courts were printed. Many famous people were jailed under those laws.

I recall that in 1959, Cassandra wrote an article on an American entertainer named Liberace in which he described Liberace as “. . .  the summit of sex – the pinnacle of masculine, feminine and neuter. Everything that he, she and it can ever want . . .  a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.”

Liberace sued the Daily Mirror, and at the end of a multi-day trial in which the Daily Mirror defended and tried to justify every single phrase individually, the Court awarded Liberace 8000 pounds in damages – at that time the highest libel award in British history.

Liberace was reported in other sections of the British Press later as saying: “I cried all the way to the bank.”

But on the other side, as I understand it, the Daily Mirror from the first day of the trial raised the price for its lifting rights (which the Chronicle promptly paid in order to maintain the service) plus its daily advertising rates.  I suppose, over time, the Daily Mirror more than made back the damages plus legal costs it had to pay Liberace by order of the Court.

And as fate would have it, in 1982 Scott Thorson a 22-year-old former chauffeur sued Liberace for $113 million in palimony after Liberace fired him.  The case was settled out of court in 1986. 

Yours faithfully,

George N. Cave

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