SAN FRANCISCO—A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a televangelist’s defamation lawsuit claiming ABC’s “20/20” news program used a fictionalized sermon portraying himself as a wealthy braggart out of context.The original 20/20 report
A trial court judge had earlier tossed out the lawsuit filed by the Rev. Frederick Price, ruling that the video apparently showing the founder of the Crenshaw Christian Center boast about his wealth didn’t leave the audience with the wrong impression of the preacher: Price is wealthy and he does boast, going as far as calling himself a “prophet of prosperity.”
But the problem for ABC is that the clip of Price it aired was actually a sermon on greed in which the preacher slips into the role of a fictional character who is wealthy but unhappy.
“I live in a 25-room mansion,” television viewers saw Price preach. “I have my own $6 million yacht. I have my own private jet, and I have my own helicopter, and I have seven luxury automobiles.”
Because none of that was true but was presented as fact, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the trial court to reconsider the lawsuit and determine whether Price suffered any harm to his reputation because of the clip.
Court records show that Price owns an 8,000 square-foot house worth $4.6 million, drives a Rolls Royce, wears an $8,500 watch and travels the world in a Gulfstream jet owned by the church, which he describes as a $40 million operation.
Judge R. Gary Klausner had decided that even though Stossel’s broadcast took the words of Frederick K.C. Price out of context the television evangelist was out of luck because the words, while misused, nevertheless were “substantially true.”
A three-member panel at the Ninth Circuit appeals court disagreed today.
ABC later repeatedly apologized but the evangelist sued in July 2007.
In court, the network argued that Price’s words, while taken out of context, were generally an accurate description of the evangelist’s lifestyle.
But the Ninth Circuit panel (dominated by two Democrat presidential appointees) determined that Judge Klausner had prematurely ended the suit because Stossel and ABC presented Price’s “statement in a misleading context, thereby changing the viewer’s understanding of the speaker’s words.”
A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a defamation lawsuit against Walt Disney Co’s ABC Network and its former news correspondent, John Stossel, finding some claims to be potentially valid.
An attorney for Price said ABC must now produce editor notes and footage that can shed light on whether the network intentionally broadcast false statements.