Much mischief has been done to the themes treated here, for this case concerned itself with the utterances and writings of ordinary people, including the press, towards public paid officials, critical of them in the conduct of their official duties. The public officials sought to protect themselves from criticism using the then laws of Alabama towards defamation. It would be hard not to agree with the court’s findings, in overturning Alabama law.
Where, then, the mischief?
It is to be found in the definition of “public figures.” Our founding fathers were concerned with protecting the free speech of all who would criticize public officials in the performance of their duties.
But celebrities? Upon the inclusion of any and all celebrities, defined perhaps as those who willingly or otherwise get involved in disputes “in a public or private manner”, upon this shaky ground a whole industry has grown. And in many cases it has brought huge suffering to those so defined, and immeasurable harm to their innocent children. Now, anyone can become the subject of malicious gossip about their private lives.
Mr. Justice Brennan said, in his opening remarks on behalf of the highest court of the land, “We are required in this case to determine for the first time the extent to which the constitutional protection for speech and press limit a State’s power to award damages in a libel action brought by a public official against critics of his official conduct.”
The question of whether a non public official’s “official conduct”, an obsurdity on its face, would be held to the same standard was not before the court.
A huge leap of understanding on the part of greedy profit-seeking members of the public media, and their constitutional lawyers.
It is time that the Supremes re-defined the laws of libel, as it pertains to those who, by any definition, are not “public officials”, or “government officials”.
And if I am accused of making a self-serving statement, then yes, indeed I am.
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