Notes & updates: None currently.

Defamation, Slander, and Libel

The most recognizable type of defamation case, perhaps, is where a reporter publishes a story about a person, and the story includes some scandalous details that, if true, would ruin the subject's good name and reputation.

This happens in more than just the celebrity tabloids.

However, the mere fact that a story damages the subject's reputation is not enough to subject the writer to libel. (Verbal defamation is called slander.)

The story has to be untrue, and, in some cases, the writer has to have actual knowledge that the story is untrue.

What does this mean? The truth is an absolute defense to defamation. The details of the story might be the craziest ideas you have ever heard and may be the most damaging and shocking news of the day, but the bottom line is that in the United States the truth is absolute defense.

To make things more difficult (to sue for defamation anyway), there are circumstances where the writer can simply believe the story is true without having to have actual, firsthand knowledge that the story is true, such as the case of a journalist writing about a public official.

There may be no way for the journalist to know whether the information is absolutely true. However, because we value freedom of speech and freedom of the press so highly, we as a society have choosen to protect the journalist over the public official, even on the chance that the journalist was misinformed.

If the journalist knows for a fact that the story was false, then the journalist will, clearly, not have the truth as a defense. However, proving that the journalist had actual knowledge, or even was likely to know, the truth of the matter can be very difficult to prove.

Call Saint Paul lawyer Patrick Oden at 651.210.9409, or contact him by e-mail through this Web site.

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