A Vancouver, Washington woman is suing 11th and Pine-headquartered The Stranger after she says the alt-weekly included her bare-breasted photograph in its “Drunk of the Week” feature when she was actually celebrating her grandma’s 90th birthday in Pittsburgh.
Ex-Stranger photographer Kelly O’Neil is also named in the defamation suit brought last week on behalf of Tamar Hage against Stranger parent company, Index Newspapers:
“In addition to the false statements, given the date of The Stranger issue, all of the references in the piece would lead a reader to believe that Plaintiff’s actions, and the photo, occurred during the Thanksgiving, 2015 time period,” Hage’s lawyers write. “In fact, on Thanksgiving, 2015, Plaintiff was in Pittsburgh celebrating her Grandmother’s 90th birthday. Plaintiff was not drunk during the Thanksgiving time period.”
In its response, The Stranger claims the photo — since pulled from the paper’s sites — was of a woman named Lisa, not Hage. In an email, Stranger GM Laurie Saito attempted to clear the air after the paper was contacted by Hage:
Hage’s lawyers say the woman Saito referred to in her letter as “Lisa Miller” turned out to be Lisa Marceau Lorincz, described as a friend of O’Neil’s who “denies ever signing a release for defendant O’Neil and denies ever being the subject of a photograph where her bare breast and nipple are exposed.” Hage’s lawyers added this kicker to the allegations:
Additionally, upon information and belief, at the time The Stranger and O’Neil claim the topless Drunk of the Week photograph was taken of Lisa Marceau Lorincz, Ms. Lorincz was in fact undergoing breast cancer treatment, had not yet undergone reconstruction surgery, and could not have been the subject of a photograph depicting a bare breast and nipple at that time.
In its response, The Stranger has continued to deny that the photograph shows Hage. It also makes it clear O’Neil is no longer a Stranger employee in its filing asking the court to dismiss the case.
Hage’s lawyers are seeking damages in an amount to be proven at trial, interest, and legal costs. “The abusive, embarrassing and humiliating Drunk of the Week piece and the defendants’ deceptive conduct have caused Plaintiff to suffer great emotional distress and Plaintiff manifested physical symptoms arising from her emotional distress,” Hage’s lawyers write. “After the Drunk of the Week piece was posted and published, Plaintiff began to receive communications from her family, friends and former work colleagues who recognized Plaintiff in the Drunk of the Week piece and saw the topless photo of her.”
While it appears to be of a much smaller scale, the Stranger lawsuit comes amid increasing concerns for us in the news industry about the impact of defamation litigation on journalism in the wake of the Hulk Hogan-Gawker case that left the aggressive news company bankrupt.
Last November, CHS reported on a new lease for the Stranger that will keep it in its Capitol Hill headquarters through 2020. The Stranger has not yet responded to our inquiries about the case.
Meanwhile, O’Neil’s final Drunk of the Week ran in February, 2016.
The case’s trial date is slated for September 2017.