July 24, 2009

Red Meat

 

Have you ever wondered why paparazzi can stalk celebrities to the endangerment of their safety or state of mind?Why does not vicious slander among politicians and other public figures result in lawsuits?

 

A common law precedent from 1964 meant to protect political speech has certified failure of any lawsuit brought by any public person for defamation except under some very narrow circumstances.The Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, decided that actual malice, a legal term that does not mean what it appears, had to be present to press such a case.Accidental defamation or that arising from a misunderstanding of the facts would not meet such a test.Given that it is one personís word against anotherís as to what their motive is, this decision practically prevents any litigation of this kind whatsoever.This was an extension to the existing and less comprehensive principle of fair comment.

 

This kind of precedent resulted in the following travesty.Larry Flynt published defamation in his Hustler magazine against Jerry Falwell of a kind too evil to repeat.Jerry sued in spite of such a precedent and won in a lower court because of the depravity of the crime.An appeals court later overturned the ruling based on the above mentioned Supreme Court ruling.

 

Congress and State Legislators are much freer than this however.In order that tyranny might not block legislative attempts to defeat it, Legislators are not subject to defamation charges at all on the floor of the legislature while it is in session.The legal principle here, simply called privilege, allows the defamation of private as well as public persons.This seems almost to be an open secret.Although I knew I had read about it, I searched the internet thoroughly for the subject some time ago to no avail.Finally, I found one paragraph concerning it in a family-oriented law book.Legislators sometimes give hint of this law when they challenge an opponent to repeat his words outside of the legislature, but unless you knew that this law existed, his words would not register any significance.

 

Because of the continuing need for freedom of political speech, I do not advocate the removal of these laws, but that you know that truth is not enforced in the public arena.As a responsible citizen, you must weigh the credibility of every person, concept, and speech presented to you on the public stage.

 

This article is brief because I did not want to confuse the issue with many words.