Now, here is an interesting potential torts lawsuit. Diane Sawyer interviewed a Manhattan prostitute for an ABC Special. She was assured that her identity would be concealed, but at least one person recognized her immediately: her mother. The prostitute details the accidental disclosure on her blog under the name “debauchette”
As “debauchette,” the woman explained that “I’m mentioning the interview now because last night, I learned that my parents tuned in to ABC that fateful day and promptly recognized me, in spite of the silhouette, the altered voice, the distorted profile, the vague and thoroughly dated details . . . I received an e-mail from my mother saying that she knows. She saw the interview and decided to sit on this knowledge until she could see it again, and then she decided to contact me.” Her blog says that her mother did the outing. Her mother is not in any liability trouble, of course. The question is ABC.
Notably, the picture does not appear especially well concealed. When I have done such programs with clients in shadow, I have always insisted on approving the level of concealment. In one case, I demanded greater concealment and threatened to walk out with my client.
I do not know of any lawsuit for negligent failure to conceal of an identity in such a circumstance, but (absent a contractual waiver) there is no reason why it could not be a basis for a lawsuit. It would all turn on the promises and expectations leading to the interview. The levels of concealment depend on its purpose. In some cases, the understanding is that the subject simply does not want to be recognized on the street. Obviously, all producers want more detail than less. This case shows that the highest level of security can be called the “mother block.”
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