Sharon Wins Second Round : Jury Finds Time Report False, Takes Up Malice
Former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon won a second round in his $50-million libel suit against Time Inc. Friday when jurors found Time’s report that he discussed revenge against Palestinians with Lebanese Christian leaders was false.
The jurors then returned immediately to deliberate a third issue necessary to determine if Sharon was libeled: whether Time acted with malice.
Marshals kept the packed courtroom locked while the jury’s verdict on the second issue--whether the report was false--was announced, and the judge polled the panel.
The jurors had deliberated two days since deciding the first major issue, that Time defamed Sharon in reporting that he had “discussed” revenge with Lebanese Falangists at a meeting the day after President-elect Bashir Gemayel, a Falangist leader, was assassinated in September, 1982. The massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militiamen at two refugee camps in Israeli-controlled West Beirut began the following day.
To award Sharon a libel verdict, the jury still must find Time guilty of malice--that it published the report either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false. Sharon also must show damage to his reputation.
Time had conceded during the trial that a secret report did not in fact contain the material that its report, part of a Feb. 21, 1983, cover story, had alleged. The magazine printed a correction in last week’s issue.
Milton Gould, Sharon’s attorney, described the jury as “six ordinary human beings” who proved “this is an outrageous lie.”
“I’m glad that after that long struggle, we learned that it’s a long way to arrive at the truth, but a rewarding one,” Sharon said on the courthouse steps shortly after the jury’s decision was read.
“Of course, the trial is still going on and there are other issues to be discussed and decided upon. But the most important thing has been proved: that Time magazine lied,” said Sharon, now his nation’s minister of industry and commerce.
Ray Cave, Time’s managing editor, said in the hallway of the courthouse that he thought the jury was mistaken.
“I remain confident in the end that this jury will decide that Gen. Sharon was not libeled by Time. I see no reason to settle,” Cave said.
If the jury decides Sharon has not proved malice, the trial is over and the Time story is not judged libelous. If the jury rules for Sharon again, the trial still is not over.
A mini-trial with more witnesses and evidence will be held during which Sharon must demonstrate that his reputation was damaged by the publication.
In a statement, Time said it “still believes that the article was substantially true. In our view, the only thing the evidence showed was that the disputed material was not contained in appendix B, a relatively minor inaccuracy.”
Appendix B was a classified Israeli document on the refugee camp massacre. Lawyers were granted access to the appendix after the trial began.
Lack of Access Decried
“We believe we could have proved that the paragraph (at issue in the suit) was substantially true had we been given adequate access to secret Israeli documents and testimony,” Time said.
In seven days of testimony at the trial, which began Nov. 13, Sharon vigorously denied discussing revenge “with any Lebanese.”
On Wednesday, after about 15 hours of deliberations, the jury decided that the article “read in context” by the average person meant Sharon “consciously intended” for the Falangists to take revenge--even against noncombatants.