NBC Gets Victory Over 'Today Show' Bomb Segment at Appeals Court

A manufacturer of exploding rifle targets can't revive a defamation lawsuit.
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On Tuesday, a couple years after Today Show viewers witnessed a bomb exploding on air, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals made it a bit tougher for plaintiffs to sue for defamation in New York.

The plaintiff in the case was Tannerite Sports, a manufacturer of exploding rifle targets.

The company filed claims against NBCUniversal News Group after Today informed its audiences that it had obtained a "bomb," made up of ingredients causing explosions used by terrorists to kill Americans. "And you'll never believe where I got this," said reporter Jeff Rossen. "A sporting goods store, no questions asked."

Tannerite insisted its product — sold for recreational shooters to aim at — was hardly a bomb. But a district court ruled that there was substantial truth in statements that when the product's ingredients are mixed, they become explosive. As a bomb does.

The appeals court affirms the decision Tuesday by coming to the conclusion that in order for a defamation claim to prevail, a false statement must be made. While that determination might not sound controversial, the appellate judges had to determine the point at which truth and falsity gets tested in litigation.

Tannerite argued that truth is an affirmative defense — meaning something that wouldn't get adjudicated until both sides had the opportunity to interview witnesses, examine documents and put forward experts.

Writing for the majority, 2nd Circuit court judge Rosemary Pooler decides that plaintiffs must do more, sooner.

"Having established that falsity — or lack of substantial truth — is an element of a New York defamation claim, it follows that a plaintiff must plead facts demonstrating falsity to prevail on a motion to dismiss the complaint in federal court."

In short, those suing for defamation are required to make a case that something is plausibly false from the outset.

The 2nd Circuit then attempts to define the term "bomb" before remarking, "The target's singularity of explosive purpose — the fact that it is 'designed to be dispersed in a violent or rapid manner upon detonation' — marks it as a kind of a bomb."

The appellate court also dispenses with other defamation claims, including one where Tannerite complained NBC's Today had falsely associated the company with terrorists. Pooler shoots down "scattered, cryptic references" in Tannerite's complaint as not sufficiently putting forward any clear claim with factual support. Here's the full opinion.

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