Court Revives Evangelist’s Defamation Lawsuit Against ABC Network

August 25, 2010

A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a defamation lawsuit against Walt Disney Co.’s ABC Network and its former news correspondent, John Stossel, finding some claims to be potentially valid.

The case, brought by television evangelist Dr. Frederick Price, had been dismissed by a trial court judge. But the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the suit, finding that Price may be able to prove that his words were taken sufficiently out of context to be false.

On a 2007 broadcast of its show “20/20,” ABC aired a clip in which Price described vast wealth, including a $6 million yacht. But the show did not make it clear that Price was actually talking about a hypothetical person in a sermon, and not about his own possessions, according to the opinion. The network eventually ran a correction.

“Here, the context in which Price’s words were presented materially changed the words’ meaning,” the court ruled.

An attorney for Price said ABC must now produce editor notes and footage that can shed light on whether the network intentionally broadcast false statements.

“It’s been a long, hard struggle and we look forward to trying this case against Mr. Stossel and ABC News,” Price’s attorney, Anthony Glassman, said.

An ABC spokesman noted that the appeals court still dismissed some claims, and the court did not take a position on the ultimate viability of the lawsuit.

“We remain confident that ABC News will ultimately prevail,” said Senior Vice President Jeffrey Schneider.

Stossel has a show on the Fox Business Network. The case will go back to the trial court for further proceedings.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Richard Chang, Robert MacMillan and Matthew Lewis)

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