Blog: Tiger Woods news coverage: intrusive?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

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At his press conference at the Masters yesterday, golfing great Tiger Woods discussed the most difficult aspects of his life over the past few months in the midst of revelations of his scandalous affairs. One was what he called “the constant harassment to my family.” He described this harassment as his “wife and kids being photographed everywhere they go.”

Many say the press often goes too far in its newsgathering, invading the privacy of celebrities and their family members. On the other hand, many famous people thrive on constant attention, publicity and acknowledgement through press coverage.

When newsgathering becomes too intrusive, some subjects have responded with invasion-of-privacy lawsuits, contending that the press has crossed the line. In privacy law, the “line” most applicable in cases involving constant photographing and video surveillance is “intrusion,” or “intrusion upon physical solitude.”

The legal treatise Restatement of Torts explains the tort (or wrong) of intrusion this way: “One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.”

Generally speaking, watching or photographing a person while he or she is in a public place is not intrusion. However, if members of the press engage in a constant pattern of following a person — akin to stalking — then legal liability can ensue.

In Galella v. Onassis (1973), a federal appeals court ruled that paparazzo Ron Galella crossed the line by engaging in overly intrusive methods of following former first lady Jacqueline (Kennedy) Onassis and her children. The appeals court wrote that “crimes and torts committed in news gathering are not protected.”

Similarly, in Wolfson v. Lewis (1996), a federal district court in Pennsylvania enjoined the actions of television news reporters in camping outside of subjects’ homes and following them to and from their houses in pursuit of news coverage.

The court wrote: “Conduct that amounts to a persistent course of hounding, harassment and unreasonable surveillance, even if conducted in a public or semi-public place, may nevertheless rise to the level of invasion of privacy based on intrusion upon seclusion.”

Photographing Tiger Woods and his family when they are on a public street does not rise to invasion of privacy. However, if individuals — including members of the press — do actually engage in what Woods termed “constant harassment” that is “highly offensive to a reasonable person,” then they may have crossed a legal line and committed invasion of privacy.

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