Hustler Magazine v. Falwell – (Invasion of Privacy)
- Pornographer v. Televangelist.
- Jerry Falwell was a Baptist Televangelist who often appeared on TV.
- Falwell often commented on current popular issues of public concern.
- Larry Flynt published Hustler Magazine, a well known adult magazine.
- Flynt published a volume of Hustler with a parody article about Falwell in it.
- The parody article was an advertisement about a liquor and the theme was Falwell’s “first time”.
- Part of the parody involved Falwell’s Mother and an outhouse.
- At the bottom of the ad was a disclaimer about the article being a parody.
- Falwell sued Hustler in a Diversity Action in US District Court.
- Falwell sought damages for: Libel, Invasion of Privacy and I.I.E.D.
- The Jury found against Falwell on the Libel Claim because the ad parody could not have been considered by any reasonable person as representing actual factual claims about Falwell.
- The Jury found for Falwell on the I.I.E.D. Claim and awarded him $200,000.
- United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit Affirmed.
- The 4th Circuit saw the issue as whether or not the ad was outrageous enough to inflict emotional distress.
- The U.S. Supreme Court took the case up on Certiorari.
- The U.S. Supreme Court made a dicta ruling about Libel which was already ruled against in the Trial Court and was not on certiorari to make a point about public figures and IIED and the Actual Malice standard.
Issue: The Supreme Court saw the issue as: Whether or not a public figure must show that a parody made by a publication contains false statements made with actual malice in order to recover for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?
Conclusion: Chief Justice Rehnquist opining for the majority stated that a public figure cannot recover damages unless they can show that false statements made in a parody by a publication are made with actual malice. Free speech will always produce criticizing speech and smear speech with respect to public figures.
Rule: A Parody must be made with actual malice for there to be libel. The same standard holds true for I.I.E.D. for a public figure and there must be actual malice.
Rule Proof: Actual Malice is the key element to a libel claim with respect to a parody. There must be knowledge of a statement’s falsehood or reckless disregard for it’s truth or falsehood. (Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)).
Application to these Facts: There was not actual malice. There is nothing in the parody other than intentional offensive political satire. Offensiveness is not a reason to oppress political speech.
Counterargument: The parody was meant to offend and cause emotional distress. This parody was extremely outrageous.
Conclusion: This is the definition of I.I.E.D., the court’s higher bar for outrageousness of expression for public figures notwithstanding. The public figure however cannot rely on the same standards. The parody disclaimer seals the deal.
The Supreme Court Reversed the Circuit Court’s Decision.
Application and Influence of Counterargument/Conclusion in Law System: We have seen that being a public figure pulls together different law principles that pertain to broad swaths of philosophical principles that are juxtaposed in satire and parody as a commentary on the times based on specific people who as individuals are offended, but cannot be free from becoming targets of biting humor because of their polarizing nature. Satirists and Political Cartoonists were given the win of the day on this one by the Supreme Court.