During a January 24 game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets, Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis complained to official Bill Spooner about a bad call. Spooner told Rambis he’d review the call at halftime, to which Rambis responded, “But how do I get those points back?”
John Krawczynski, an AP sportswriter in Minnesota, then tweeted:
Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d “get it back” after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.
Spooner says this didn’t happen, so he’s suing Krawczynski. Yes, he is suing a reporter over a tweet.
According to ESPN:
Spooner’s suit seeks over $75,000 in damages along with both an unpublishing and retraction of the statement on the grounds that the tweet is a defamatory accusation.
“We believe all of the facts we reported from the game in question were accurate,” AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin said in a statement.
$75,000 over a tweet? Sure, that seems crazy, but I think Tomlin’s statement is more interesting.
“We believe all of the facts we reported …”
For reporters and writers, Twitter has become an extension of the hard news story. It’s a a place to answer questions, connect with readers, link to relevant articles, and throw in facts you couldn’t fit in your report. But it’s also a place to post a picture of a cat or comment on something outside of your subject area. Really, it’s a place to do anything you want.
Was Krawczynski’s tweet really reporting? Or was he just making an observation? Are those now the same things?
If he made a similar, unsubstantiated, non-basketball related statement, would he still be up for punishment? There weren’t really any guidelines to Twitter, and now some really blurry ones are beginning to form.
Eric Freeman at Ball Don’t Lie thinks it could bring source-backed tweeting into play:
Most basketball tweeters aren’t going to stop criticizing Bill Spooner due to legal paranoia, but they may think twice the next time they send out an update like this one without the benefit of audio. You can’t report something in a newspaper without credible sources, and the same could soon become true for gainfully employed writers on the web, too.
Yes, Spooner is completely overreacting. If anything, he’s putting more eyes on Krawcynski’s tweet than Krawczynski did by posting it. And yes, I’m expecting a call from his attorney any minute. But this suit could bring about some important, if unintended, changes.