Former MIT Student Journalist Prevails in Libel Suit Brought by Wellesley Professor

A Massachusetts judge ruled in late December that a student journalist did not libel a controversial Wellesley College professor in a 1993 article when it claimed that the professor had gained tenure only after suing the school for racial bias.

The judge ruled that the article published in Counterpoint, a journal published by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was “substantially true” even though it was “partly false.”

The judge also ruled that the student author had not written the article with “malice” and that the professor had failed to prove that the article harmed his reputation or caused him emotional stress.

One of the more interesting issues in this case was the reporter’s use of a confidential student source who had passed on information that she claimed had been given to her by Wellesley administrators or professors. The judge refused requests by the professor to make the reporter reveal his source, but said in her decision that the reporter believed the source to be trustworthy. While the reporter prevailed, this case does demonstrate some of the risks that can arise when relying upon confidential sources. Not all courts have been so understanding.

Case: Martin v. Roy, No. 93-07137 (Mass. Super. Ct. Middlesex, Dec. 23, 1998)