Ham + Muslim Students -> School Discipline -> Satire -> Serious Repetition on National TV -> Libel Lawsuit -> First Circuit Opinion:

Check out Levesque v. Doocy, decided today:

On April 11, 2007, a student at Lewiston Middle School placed a bag containing leftover ham on the cafeteria table where Somali Muslim students were sitting for lunch. The Somali students reported the incident to Bill Brochu, a Lewiston police officer stationed at the school. After an investigation of the incident, the middle school's assistant principal suspended the offending student for ten school days, a decision in which the principal concurred. The assistant principal classified the incident as "Hate Crime/Bias" in the school's computer system, and Brochu filed a police report under the direction of his superior officer, characterizing the incident as "Crime: Harassment/Hate Bias." Levesque was informed of the suspension and endorsed the decision.

The following week, while the Lewiston schools were closed for April vacation, Bonnie Washuk, a reporter for the Lewiston Sun Journal, contacted Superintendent Levesque to discuss an article she intended to write about the incident. Published on April 19, 2007, the Washuk article included quotations from both Levesque and Stephen Wessler, the executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence ("the Center") which was working with the Lewiston Middle School to develop an appropriate response to the incident. Washuk quoted Levesque as describing the offending student's conduct as "a hate incident" and acknowledging, "We've got some work to do to turn this around and bring the school community back together ... All our students should feel welcome and safe in our schools." Wessler described the incident as "extraordinarily hurtful and degrading" and warned that without a response, "more degrading acts will follow, until at some point we'll end up having violence." Somali students reflected that the event reminded them of an incident earlier that year when the head of a pig was rolled into a Lewiston mosque during a prayer session that many Somalis attended.

On April 23, four days after the Sun Journal ran Washuk's article, Nicholas Plagman uploaded a piece he had written about the April 11 incident to Associated Content, a website platform that permits registered users to publish content on topics of their choosing. [I suspect this is the piece. -EV] While the Plagman article purported to describe the incident as a news story, it mischaracterized some facts, such as reporting that the students left a ham sandwich, rather than ham steak, on the cafeteria table. Similarly, where Washuk reported that the Center was working with the school to create a response plan, Plagman described it as "an anti-ham 'response plan.'" Plagman also included fictitious quotations which generally built upon those accurately used in Washuk's article. For example, according to Plagman, Levesque stated, "We've got work to do to turn this around and bring the school community back together again. These children have got to learn that ham is not a toy." Plagman also quoted Wessler as stating, "It's extraordinarily hurtful and degrading. They probably felt like they were back in Mogadishu starving and being shot at." Finally, Plagman falsely listed the Associated Press ("AP") as a source. Because Plagman indicated that his story should be housed under Associated Content's "humor" and "news" categories, the article was retrievable through Google News, a computer-generated website that aggregates headlines from news sources worldwide.