On November 30, 2017, entertainment blogger/reporter, Steve Carbone (aka “Reality Steve“), reported (via blog and audio podcast) he is once again being legally threatened by “Bachelor” production company, NZK Productions, to stop “spoiling” the “Bachelor” season or he would face a lawsuit. Carbone reported that his lawyer received a “cease and desist” letter on November 22, 2017 which caused a one-week delay in “spoiling” the season.
Over five years ago, I covered the “Bachelor” producers’ (NZK Productions) lawsuit against Carbone. That lawsuit claimed that Carbone was “interfering with Plaintiffs contracts with participants and employees of the Bachelor series…by soliciting non-public information from participants and employees regarding events that transpire…prior to their broadcast and by offering monetary inducements to participants and employees to disclose such information.”
I covered that story and followed the lawsuit because it seemed clear to me that NZK was bullying one-man show, Carbone, into silence depriving him of his 1st Amendment right to “spoil” (report) the events and ending of every season of the “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” shows.
NZK claimed that because Carbone allegedly tried to compensate contestants (who signed non-disclosure agreements) for inside information that he somehow was at fault. That is a flawed argument because tabloid press routinely compensate information sources for their information. If NZK employees or insiders choose to violate their NDAs with NZK, that falls on the alleged informants, not Carbone. As I understand it, because of that lawsuit, Carbone no longer compensates his sources for information. He also does not approach current contestants for inside information.
Regardless, Carbone openly and publicly discloses he is an entertainment reporter and blogger. He makes no secret of this. It falls upon potential informants to NOT communicate information to Carbone. As far as I can tell, Carbone does not coerce, threaten, or extort anyone for information. He keeps his email, blog, and phone open to potential informants may wish to communicate with him. He meticulously follows up to corroborate information provided to him. Carbone is a zealous, inquisitive entertainment reporter who specializes in the “Bachelor” TV franchise for nearly 15 years. It has been his full-time job for several years. His fans and readership are equally zealous and inquisitive of Carbone’s commentaries and reporting. Carbone continues to be so good at what he does, he is being legally threatened by NZK a third time.
Carbone has not yet published specific communications his lawyer received from NZK. As such, I am relying on Carbone’s written and audio commentary to discern the underlying legal issues. As I understand it, NZK is threatening to sue Carbone because he is reporting ACCURATE non-publicized information. Based on memory, I believe Carbone claims that his information sources comes entirely from voluntary non-NZK sources. The problem NZK has is that it is legal for him to do so regardless of whether his informants have signed NDAs or not or whether they are NZK-affiliated or not.
What NZK refuses to accept is that Carbone has 1st Amendment rights. Within those rights is “freedom of the press”. It has been well-established by the Supreme Court that whether someone is a one-man blogger like Carbone or a reporter for the New York Times, they have the same journalistic rights and privileges.
It is hard to fathom a scenario where NZK would ever sue the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, NBC News, or any other institutional reporting organization for investigating, uncovering, and reporting on the same spoilers. Reporters from these news reporting organizations also do not get sued for investigating, uncovering, and truthfully reporting on far more weightier matters such as the recent run of sexual harassment accusations against prominent figures. In those reports, many accusers were under NDAs and other secretive agreements. If anyone has legal exposure, the informants have it, not the reporters.
But because Carbone is a one-man show, he is the easy target for NZK to bully and intimidate. NZK knows it, Carbone knows it, and I know it.
As a reporter with blogger and reporter rights, Carbone is not enjoined from speaking to or communicating with any informant that may wish to communicate with him. However, certain informants under NDAs may be enjoined from speaking to or communicating with Carbone. Responsibility falls upon the informant to vet information they share. It is not the reporter’s job to ensure that informants follow any NDAs they may have signed.
In any case, these new legal threats against Carbone sound suspiciously like NZK threatening a SLAPP lawsuit against Carbone. Lawyers for NZK should know that both California (where NZK is located) and Texas (where Carbone is located) both have significant anti-SLAPP laws. The past year I have closely followed anti-SLAPP motions against Texas-based, Prestigious Pets, led by Public Citizen lawyer, Paul Alan Levy. Levy is a legal expert in anti-SLAPP matters as well as 1st Amendment online speech matters.
Let’s be clear, Carbone is very much engaged in lawful online speech in his “spoiling” and NZK appears very much to be trying to intimidate him to stop his “spoiling” forever. Carbone has rightfully gone public about the NZK legal threats, telling his side of the story, and standing his ground.
The new legal threats of a suspicious third lawsuit against Carbone to constrain Carbone’s ability to freely and legally report “spoilers” on the “Bachelor” shows borders on speech “bullying” and “harassment” as covered by UCLA law professor, legal scholar, Eugene Volokh.
Carbone has previously proven that he can raise substantial legal funds from his wide readership, if necessary, to defend against a wrongful lawsuit. Additionally, Carbone may also have a strong case to file an anti-SLAPP lawsuit against NZK should that become necessary. Carbone is not restricted from playing defense only. Carbone could go on offense and take the fight to NZK and win damages from NZK.
Because of Carbone’s underdog role in the entertainment reporting industry, it seems likely he would attract legal advocates who are passionate about the 1st Amendment and would not mind reporting and calling out on NZK’s thuggish tactics against Carbone and helping reign in an overly-litigious TV production company.
Perhaps, the lawyers of NZK will see that employing thuggish legal actions against one-man show, Carbone, might inadvertently trigger the Streisand Effect against their client.
It is clear Carbone is not staying quiet. He is speaking out and aggressively defending his 1st Amendment rights. Good for him. I, for one, will monitor and follow his updates on this situation.
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