The old cliché of a journalist who will do anything for a story might not be too far from the truth if the claims in this case which caused this CBS reporter are in fact true. Such appeared to be the case for Amy Jacobsen when cameras caught her in a bikini at the house of a person of interest in a major case.
In April 2007, Lisa Stebic disappeared. She and her husband, Craig Stebic, were in the process of getting divorced when Lisa failed to show up to pick up her children, then 10 and 12 years old, from school. After she disappeared, friends and neighbors claimed that Lisa had been inquiring about a domestic violence shelter. She reportedly told one friend, “If anything ever happened to me, look towards Craig.”
After Lisa disappeared, neighbors of Craig Stebic’s house were told by a media consultant to have video cameras aimed at the house at all times in case they should catch anything suspicious. It was one of these neighbors who turned the video of Jacobsen and her children in bathing suits at Craig’s house.
According to Jacobsen, she was driving to the local swim club with her two sons on July 6, 2007, when she got a call from Jill Webb, Craig’s sister. Webb reportedly said she was upset about some of the network coverage of the case and asked Jacobsen if she would talk about the case with her at Craig’s home. Jacobsen said she agreed after Webb told her she could bring her children with her.
A few days later, CBS aired footage of Jacobsen and her children enjoying what looked like a pool party at Craig Stebic’s house. On July 12, Stebic was named a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance.
If Jacobsen is the type of reporter who will do anything for a scoop — a claim she denies in her libel suit –, it appears to have worked. She is one of only two reporters that Craig talked to during the investigation.
After the footage aired, Jacobsen was fired from her position as a reporter at NBC. One year later, Jacobsen filed a libel lawsuit seeking more than $1 million from CBS and the neighbor who shot the video of her at Stebic’s house.
In February 2009, a Cook County judge allowed four counts of defamation to be considered by the courts. Judge Elizabeth Budzinski determined that “the CBS newscaster presented the footage with statement made in the form of insinuations and questions regarding Jacobsen’s activities while at the Stebic home”. Such insinuations and questions, Budzinski wrote in her ruling, “suggest that Jacobsen used improper methods in cultivating sources and obtaining stories.”
A different judge however, Judge Jeffrey Lawrence, has recently dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the parts of the CBS report that Jacobsen complained about are “constitutionally protected expressions of opinion.” Additionally, Lawrence argued that Jacobsen and her attorneys did not provide sufficient evidence that the content in the CBS report was fabricated.
It is not time for CBS to relax yet, though. Jacobsen is intent on an appeal. Her attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said that they “had always figured there would be an appeal before this went to trial because there are too many issues.” Zellner went on to say that the appeal will rest on her argument that Jacobsen was not a public figure at the time that CBS aired the story and that Judge Lawrence’s explanation contradicts a ruling that a prior judge made earlier in the case.
Our Chicago libel attorneys concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases including cases representing a high profile athlete against a well known radio shock jock, a consumer sued by a large car dealer in federal court for negative internet reviews and videos, one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired, a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois.
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