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Counterpoint Writer Cleared in Libel Suit

By Zareena Hussain
News Editor

The libel case filed three years ago against a former staff member of the joint MIT-Wellesley publication Counterpoint ended with a finding for the defendant and against the Africana Studies professor at Wellesley who brought the suit.

Anthony Martin, professor of Africana studies at Wellesley, filed suit against Avik Roy '96 in response to an article written by Roy in the fall of 1993 about the controversy surrounding Martin. Specifically, Martin took issue with the statement in the article saying that he "gained tenure within the Africana Studies department only after successfully suing the college for racial discrimination, providing a possible explanation as to Martin's outspoken racial views as well as the administration's reluctance to openly censure him."

While Martin had filed suit against Wellesley in 1987 alleging racial discrimination over a merit increase, he had already gained tenure in 1975.

Despite this, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Judith Fabricant found that the statement in question was "partly false, but substantially true."

"What is inaccurate in the statement is the implication of timing and causation," Fabricant wrote. "The suit occurred well after his tenure, and thus could not have caused it."

However, she added that the conclusion drawn from the statement, that fear of litigation would cause Wellesley to exercise "particular restraint" when dealing with Martin, "follows at least as strongly from the actual facts as it would from the erroneous version."

In the end, Fabricant ruled that Martin had failed to meet his burden of proof on four of the five necessary components for proving libel. According to the 23-page ruling handed down by Fabricant, Martin failed to prove that the statement by Roy was either false or defamatory, that Roy's actions were malicious, or that the statement caused damage to his reputation.

"This result demonstrates that the same First Amendment protections that allow professional journalists to write freely about President Clinton and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr also provide journalists the latitude to do investigative reporting into public figures on campus," said Robert A. Bertsche, attorney for Roy, in a press release.

Martin could not be reached for comment. He told The New York Times that he would consult a lawyer as to whether he will file an appeal. He has 30 days to do so.

Incident in 1991 prompts article

Roy was prompted to write the article in dispute, a sort of retrospective chronicling the controversy surrounding Martin since his arrival as associate professor in 1973, as a result of heightened controversy resulting from the reporting of an altercation between Martin and a student that took place in October 1991 in another Wellesley publication.

In the spring, before the article appeared in Counterpoint,The Gallenstone broke the story publishing interviews with both Martin and the student, who gave differing accounts of the incident. The student, Michelle Plantec, said that when she saw Martin unescorted in a dorm, in violation of a rule requiring male guests to be escorted, she inquired who was his escort. According to Plantec, Martin responded using profanity, accused her of racism and bigotry, and positioned himself so as to physically intimidate her.

Martin denied the claim that he used profanity and alleged that Plantec and a group of women "accosted him rudely, despite circumstances that in his view made the legitimacy of his presence obvious,"according to court papers.

Roy concluded in the article that the Wellesley administration would be likely to try to cover up the incident because of fear of litigation by Martin.

According to Roy, he was chosen to write the article, which was published after he left MIT and had begun studies at Yale Medical school, because the sense among the staff at Counterpoint was he would be less biased since he was an MITstudent.

"Idid not have it out for Tony Martin in the least," Roy said.

Martin focus of controversy

Roy's article was one of many articles written both at Wellesley and nationwide about the controversial Martin.

The source of this controversy began in 1992 when Martin assigned to students The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, a book published by the Nation of Islam that centers on the role Jews played in the slave trade.

In a speech by Martin in 1993 to Wellesley's Academic Council, he said the book was a "scholarly monograph" and that the book "suggests that Jews has a higher per capita slave ownership than for the white population as a whole" and that "abolitionism was distinguished by a relative scarcity of Jewish voices," according to court papers.

The book was denounced by scholars and groups such as the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.

The controversy on Wellesley's campus was soon covered by national media groups such as National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the Associated Press.

Roy defends article's accuracy

Roy still contends, however, that the disputed statement in the case was not inaccurate, saying that the existence of the suit in 1987, nor his own inability to find documented proof of any case filed by Martin against Wellesley before then, did not preclude the possibility that Martin had threatened Wellesley with a lawsuit in the course of tenure decisions.

Roy said that Martin "could have very easily" brought forward members of the Wellesley administration to testify on his behalf that he did not sue or threaten to sue in 1975.

"That actually leads me to be more skeptical about his contention," Roy said.

The paragraph in dispute came from a confidential source who had also learned from an administrative official that the college had tried to "cover-up the incident threatening student journalists with withholding recommendations if they printed information about the incident."

Roy said he corroborated the other information provided by the source with other sources but not with members of the Wellesley administration. Roy also failed to contact Martin in the course of writing his article.

The source was another staff member at Counterpoint who had helped with reporting the story but was not listed as a collaborator for fear of reprisal by Wellesley College, Roy said.

Martin did not dispute other facts in the article.

"My speculation is he fixated on that because he can't contest anything else written in the article," Roy said.

Roy said further that the paragraph which angered Martin is "not a very major part of the story."