[sixties-l] Libel suit threatens future of online drug-war publication

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Apr 05 2001 - 22:40:55 EDT

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    Libel suit threatens future of online drug-war publication

    By Mark Jurkowitz, Globe Staff, 4/4/2001

    For much of the '80s and '90s, Al Giordano cut a wide swath among
    Massachusetts journalists and political junkies. An antinuclear activist who
    became the Boston Phoenix's political reporter, Giordano was sometimes
    abrasive, usually controversial, always passionate, and invariably
    innovative. (Who else would have sent GOP pundit Mary Matalin a little
    tie-dyed T-shirt from a Grateful Dead concert as a baby gift?)

    Giordano seemed to drop off the radar screen after departing the Phoenix in
    1996 and then leaving the country. A year ago, he surfaced as publisher of
    the online publication The Narco News Bulletin ( www.narconews.com ), which
    sees its mandate as challenging ''the illusion that the drug war is about
    combating drugs.''

    Later this month, Giordano will return to New York from his undisclosed base
    of operations in Latin America to celebrate the first anniversary of Narco
    News. He will also formally respond to what could potentially become one of
    the most riveting libel cases in recent history - if it actually goes to

    The suit, filed in New York by Banco Nacional de Mexico (known as Banamex)
    against Narco News, Giordano, and Mexican journalist Mario Renato Menendez
    Rodriguez, pits the law firm of such ex-presidential intimates as Robert
    Strauss and Vernon Jordan against two notable First Amendment attorneys. And
    it happens to focus on the subject that has captivated Academy Awards voters
    who recently honored the film ''Traffic'': the drug smuggling trade.

    ''For us, `Traffic' is not a movie,'' Giordano said in a phone interview
    this week. ''We live it every day.''

    The suit charges the journalists with ''defamation and interference with
    prospective economic advantage,'' accusing them of ''maliciously smear[ing]
    Banamex with accusations that, among other things, it is controlled and
    operated by narcotics traffickers and has engaged in illegal activity.'' It
    claims that the defamation occurred in New York last year in a Menendez
    interview with The Village Voice; in a Giordano and Menendez interview on a
    radio show; in remarks by the defendants at conference at the Columbia
    University School of Law; and in Narco News articles.

    The defense attorneys say the case is another effort to challenge Menendez,
    following unsuccessful legal proceedings against the journalist in Mexico.
    At the heart of the dispute are articles published by Menendez alleging
    involvement by Banamex owner Roberto Hernandez Ramirez in drug smuggling.

    In a statement released to the Globe, Banamex attorney Thomas McLish, of
    Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, said, ''Menendez and Giordano have been
    engaged in a campaign to convince people that Banamex and its chairman are
    involved in criminal conduct.''

    ''The Mexican courts dismissed the claims on technicalities,'' the statement
    continued. Yet ''the defamatory statements Menendez and Giordano made in New
    York have not been addressed by any court.'' Banamex filed a lawsuit in New
    York to ''clear its name'' of ''ludicrous'' charges, the statement added.

    Giordano calls the suit an attempt to stifle his First Amendment rights.
    ''They're trying to exhaust us out of existence,'' he said in the interview.
    ''It's an attempt to silence freedom of the press, freedom of the Internet,
    freedom of speech.''

    While Giordano plans on representing himself, Narco News itself will be
    defended by Northampton attorney Thomas Lesser, best known for successfully
    defending Abbie Hoffman and Amy Carter in a 1987 case stemming from their
    participation in a protest against the CIA at the University of
    Massachusetts at Amherst. Lesser challenges the Banamex suit on the grounds
    that, among other things, the defendants' New York appearances did not
    interfere with the bank's ''economic advantage,'' and because there's ''no
    question, in Mr. Menendez's mind or Mr. Giordano's mind, that these
    allegations are, in fact, true.''

    Menendez is defended by New York attorney Martin Garbus, whose client list
    has included Lenny Bruce and Timothy Leary. Garbus has filed a motion to
    dismiss, which is being opposed by Akin, Gump. ''There have already been two
    cases brought by Banamex against Menendez, and they lost,'' Garbus said. He
    also argues, as does Lesser, that the only rightful plaintiff is Hernandez,
    not his bank. ''If I call Bill Gates a crook, can Microsoft sue me?'' Garbus
    said. ''I don't think so.''

    Meanwhile, the battle goes on for Giordano. (In the interests of disclosure,
    he is a former Phoenix colleague of this writer and a nephew of Globe editor
    Matthew V. Storin.) On Narco News, he is publicizing his legal defense fund,
    which he calls ''Drug War on Trial.'' One backer is Gary Webb, author of the
    explosive and highly controversial 1996 San Jose Mercury News ''Dark
    Alliance'' series that alleged CIA complicity in a Los Angeles crack

    Last fall, Giordano gained media attention when an Associated Press
    correspondent in Bolivia resigned after Narco News reported that the AP
    writer had lobbied the government there on a water project. Now the fate of
    Narco News, which he calls ''an act of participatory citizens' journalism,''
    hangs very much in the balance.

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