• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


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    Saturday, February 19, 2005

    Libel award

    Now, I don't know much about the intricacies of libel, but it isn't a charge I see prosecuted all that much. My layman's knowledge is that libel is the act of printing harmful things about a person which you know are untrue. Hopefully someone else can shed some light on that definition.

    Regardless, I found this trial in Boston interesting. Sometimes I feel like the media has the ability to say anything they want, lambast public figures, and then say "oops! we thought the letter was real, Mr. Bush!" have someone resign, and keep pushing the envelope. This tells me that maybe, maybe there are limits.


    MGO said...

    Hmmm. Judging only from what I learned last year, I don't think this case passes the constitutional test for libel - and I'd have to look for this case on Westlaw before I really knew what was actually held by the court. Reporters frequently report on court cases based on what information the parties give them, and since each party has a stake in the nature of the reporting, you never can be sure what the court really said.

    But based on the article, I'd say this case will probably get overturned, unless it became apparent the newspaper acted with what's called "Actual Malice" or "Times malice."

    In typical libel against a private individual, truth is the defense, and if you printed a false, defamatory story, you were liable for the harm to the reputation of the person you libeled, unless you could prove the story was true.

    Newspapers have some extra constitutional protections, though, when it comes to public figures and items of public interest. The Supreme Court held that they can publish items of public interest regarding public figures that turn out to be false, so long as they don't do it with what the court called "actual malice."

    Basically, in the past, if something a newspaper printed defamed a public figure, and it had to do with a public issue (as opposed to something private), the public figure could sue them, and the newspaper had the burden of proving that the story was true.

    Now the burden of proof is on the public figure to prove that the newspaper knew what it was printing was false and that it acted with "actual malice."

    MGO said...

    Found another report about this case elsewhere - it said the jury did find "actual malice" from the newspaper.

    So I guess the appeals court just might agree. They generally don't like to overturn findings by juries.