Columnist Sued Over Legacy Crash Coverage

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The widow of one of the passengers who died when the GOL Boeing 737 he was on collided with an Embraer Legacy and crashed in Brazil three years ago has put a price on the damage allegedly done to her country's honor by an American journalist. As we reported last year, Rosane Gutjhar launched the suit saying New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey, who was on the Legacy, caused "moral damages" in his coverage of the tragedy. According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Sharkey didn't actually get served with suit until Sept. 16; the suit is demanding $280,000 and a public apology from Sharkey. Sharkey told the CPJ that the comments referenced in the suit were published on a Brazilian newspaper and incorrectly attributed to him in the reader comments on the site. But that may not mean much in the strange litigation class under which he's being sued.

According to the CPJ, citizens of Brazil have the right to sue the media if they think the country's national honor has been insulted. In this case, Gutjhar claims Sharkey called the government-run air traffic control system "archaic" and Brazil's citizens "idiots," words Sharkey told CPJ he never used in interviews or his various written accounts of the disaster. He was, however, critical of air traffic control and the judicial process in his accounts and interviews with other outlets. The CPJ says the Brazilian law is used to stifle criticism by the country's media and there have been thousands of suits launched under the provisions.