WASHINGTON The Supreme Court today refused to revive a Waco, Texas, television reporter's libel lawsuit over coverage of a federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in 1993.
The justices, without comment, let stand a Texas Supreme Court ruling that threw out John McLemore's lawsuit against Dallas-Forth Worth station WFAA-TV. The lawsuit accused the station of airing reports implying McLemore had tipped the religious sect about the raid.
The Feb. 28, 1993, confrontation led to a 51-day standoff that ended when the compound was consumed by fire, killing Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and more than 80 followers.
McLemore, then a reporter for KWTX-TV, was on the scene when the raid erupted in gunfire.
A Treasury Department investigation cleared McLemore of any misconduct. The report said the Davidians were alerted by a postal driver, who had been told by a Waco TV photographer that a raid was imminent. The photographer said he had not known the postal worker was a Koresh follower.
McLemore sued various news organizations and individuals in 1994. All the defendants except WFAA were dropped or dismissed from the case before it reached the Texas Supreme Court last year.
The state court ruled that McLemore's coverage of the raid had made him a public figure, requiring that he prove the allegedly libelous comments about him were made with "actual malice" with knowledge or reckless disregard of falsity.
Had the court ruled that McLemore was not a public figure, he would have to prove only falsity and negligence, an easier legal standard to meet.
The Texas court ruled that WFAA showed the disputed reports were based on sufficient reporting and with the good-faith belief they were true.
In the appeal acted on today, McLemore's lawyer argued that he never should have been deemed a public figure.
"A public figure must not only act voluntarily when he enters into a public controversy, he must intend to influence its outcome," the appeal said. "McLemore may have entered into the Branch Davidian raid voluntarily but nothing he said and nothing he did had anything to do with the public issues surrounding the raid."
It added: "He has not thrust himself into the forefront of a public controversy, and he is not a public figure."
The case is McLemore v. WFAA-TV, 98-1286.