N&O calls us phony? Read on.

36929705_818200218808_3626801480029175808_oThe News & Observer’s Ned Barnett went after North Carolina hog farmers in a puzzling opinion article on Friday. He called farmers “phony” for rallying to support Joey Carter — an honest, hard-working man who now stands to lose his farm because of a wrong jury verdict in a recent nuisance suit. The paper doubled down with a spurious cartoon on Sunday.Because of a gag order issued by the judge, Carter can’t even speak out about the case. So farmers across the state came together to show their support for him — and The N&O insults us by calling it a “prime example of phony victimization.”But that’s not the most puzzling aspect of Ned’s column.What’s so puzzling is The N&O’s relentless attack on the broad support for efforts to address runaway jury verdicts and punitive damages that unfairly threaten farming in our state.These efforts, which have aimed to provide clarity and certainty about nuisance lawsuits, involve a coalition of bipartisan lawmakers, cities and counties in farming regions, and a broad swath of agricultural organizations.The N&O calls it “unseemly.”Why is that so puzzling? Well, listen up.It has to do with The News & Observer itself.The N&O is currently dealing with the fallout from its own lawsuit. It published two articles in 2010 that made allegations about the conduct of a state law enforcement official. That public official brought a libel lawsuit against The N&O. If true, libel means the newspaper got it wrong and harmed the official with malice.The newspaper disputed the libel allegation and the case went to a jury trial.What happened?Well, the jury sided with the law enforcement official and told The News & Observer to pay out a whopping $1.5 million in compensatory damages to her – plus another $7.5 million in punitive damages.That’s $9 million for two articles.The News & Observer won’t have to pay the whole amount. Why? Because the punitive damages were more than state law allows.Even so, with a reduced punitive damage award, The N&O now has a verdict against it for a grand total of $6 million.That was in October 2016.Has the N&O paid up? No.That’s because the newspaper – and its friends in the media – are fighting the jury’s decision.A few months ago, The N&O filed a 220-page appeal in the state Court of Appeals.Now, let’s be clear – they don’t seek to change any law in this matter, but that’s because they say the law is already on their side.And so the appeal takes blistering aim at the trial judge.The judge did not follow the law, The N&O screams in the appeal.The judge prevented the jury from hearing vital evidence in their favor, The N&O cries in the appeal.The judge gave the wrong information to the jury, The N&O says in outrage.Welcome to the club, Ned.(Don’t bother to search the newspaper’s site for all this – they conveniently haven’t written about it.)There’s more.A separate, 46-page filing was made by a group of media, including the Associated Press, WRAL’s Capitol Broadcasting Co., the N.C. Association of Broadcasters, the N.C. Press Association, and a wide range of entities that include most every significant media outlet in the state.That’s right – in the face of an external threat, all of the media have come together to rally in support of one of their own.And what do all these media outlets say about the jury’s verdict against the N&O?That the judge got it all wrong, leading to a verdict that is “excessive” and produced “staggering” punitive damages that are “intolerable.”The jury’s verdict potentially has a “chilling effect” on all of them, they say.The jury verdict against the N&O even “may deprive the public of future news reporting on issues of significant concern” from all the media, they say, and so it must be overturned.They go on.The role of the press, they say, is “indispensable” and “essential” in our society and special protections are necessary for what they publish or broadcast, even if they sometimes get things wrong.(We’re wondering if the media understands that food is also “indispensable” or “essential,” but that’s for another day.)In short, you are reading this right:Every media outlet in the state has joined the fight against the judge and a jury verdict they view as a runaway verdict against one of their own, and their argument is that they have and deserve protection from such a verdict.And yet Ned Barnett, the associate editor of The News & Observer, criticizes as “unseemly” the efforts across agriculture to provide more clarity about when punitive damages can be awarded in a farm nuisance case.Ned even urges: Bring on those lawyers and their lawsuits.(Just don’t come after the media.)To top it off, let’s get back to the N&O’s argument. In its court papers, the N&O says that “punitive damages should be categorically prohibited” when the N&O or other media write about a public official.“The jury should not have been permitted to award punitive damages,” The N&O argues in its court filing.Let’s pause for effect right here. Go ahead and re-read that, if you must.The lawyers for the public official who courageously fought The N&O responded with their own filings, saying the judge and jury got it right.So The N&O weighed back in with 155 more pages that attack the judge in a variety of ways. The N&O is critical of “erroneous” rulings by the judge that “abused” his discretion. The judge and jury made mistakes, The N&O claims, and “worse still, the trial court steered the jury toward a massive punitive damages award” that must be overturned.The judge steered the jury?  (Tell us about it.)The N&O submitted its latest broadside to the appeals court at 4:44 p.m. on Monday, July 9.At that same time, back here in Duplin County, Joey Carter was at his farm, facing an uncertain future. That next morning is when the hundreds of farmers went to visit – and to show they too agree that judges and juries can get things wrong.It turns out newspaper editors can be wrong, too.