NBC’s ‘Dateline’ Beats Defamation Suit

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By Patrick L. Gregory

An NBC “Dateline” episode focused on sales of annuities to seniors wasn’t defamatory, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held June 28 ( Brokers’ Choice of Am., Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc. , 2017 BL 224134, 10th Cir., No. 15-1386, 6/28/17 ).

The 2008 episode—hosted by defendant Chris Hansen of “ To Catch a Predator” fame—included footage from a secretly recorded sales seminar held by Brokers’ Choice of America, the court said.

The NBC Universal show suggested that the seminar taught insurance agents to mislead seniors, which BCA claimed was defamatory, the court said.

Based on a comparison with the recording, the episode “wasn’t materially false,” the decision by Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr. held.

The seminar taught attendees “to exploit seniors’ emotions and to use ‘fear’ to make sales,” the court said.

It also taught them to mislead seniors via ghost-written materials, offering to put the names of attendees on the cover “to boost their credibility,” the court said.

The “gist of the episode” therefore wasn’t materially false, the court said.

Judges Robert E. Bacharach and Nancy Moritz joined the decision.

Jones & Keller P.C. argued for BCA. Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP argued for NBC Universal and Hansen.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

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