Former NBC-5 news reporter Amy Jacobson has won round one in her defamation suit against CBS. According to the Chicago Tribune, Associate Cook County Judge Elisabeth Budzinski ruled that four of Amy Jacobson’s eight counts could go forward, paving the way for what is sure to be a high-profile showdown in court.
All of this stems from Amy Jacobson’s involvement in a scandal that ignited a media firestorm back in in July of 2007. Amy Jacobson had been covering the mysterious disappearance of Lisa Stebic, a Plainfield, Illinois mother of two who went missing on April 30, 2007.
From the time the story first broke, a cloud of suspicion has hovered over Lisa Stebic’s estranged husband Craig Stebic because of his refusal to talk to police or offer any help with the investigation. Understandably, police consider Craig Stebic is to be a person of interest in Lisa Stebic’s disappearance.
Serious questions regarding Amy Jacobson’s adherence to journalistic ethics with respect to the Lisa Stebic story were raised when a videotape of her clad in a bikini at a pool party was made public by rival TV station WBBM-TV, a local CBS affiliate (The video landed on YouTube but it has since been taken down.)
Under normal circumstances, this would not have aroused suspicion. The only problem was that it was a pool party at the aforementioned Craig Stebic’s house. After an investigation into the matter, NBC-5 fired Amy Jacobson. Clearly, NBC-5 determined that by socializing with Craig Stebic,
Amy Jacobson crossed an ethical line.
On July 7, 2008, Amy Jacobson filed a multi-million dollar defamation suit against WBBM-TV for making the videotape public, and, as previously mentioned, that suit was allowed to go forward.
The Amy Jacobson situation is somewhat similar to that of, interestingly enough, another Chicago area reporter, Giselle Fernandez. In 1988, when she was a reporter with WBBM, she covered the story of drug dealer John Cappas.
Cappas decided to turn himself in to the authorities, but, was fearful that if he did so directly, he would be roughed up by the cops. So he asked Giselle Fernandez to accompany him. But, before the time the authorities were contacted, Cappas and Fernandez took a videotaped ride on a speedboat and stopped for pizza. Fernandez was widely condemned for what public officials and many newspaper reporters considered to be unscrupulous behavior.
Was Amy Jacobson overstepping her boundaries when she decided to socialize with Craig Stebic? Whereas some reporters would not even think about socializing with newsmakers, others see it as a perfectly legitimate way to get to know their sources and improve upon the quality of their reporting.
Exactly where the line should be drawn, however, is a continuing source of debate.
Amy Jacobson wins Round One in court against CBS, Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2009
Defending Amy, Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, July 10, 2007