MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
This Court has struggled for nearly a decade to define the proper accommodation between the law of defamation and the freedoms of speech and press protected by the First Amendment. With this decision we return to that effort. We granted certiorari to reconsider the extent of a publisher's constitutional privilege against liability for defamation of a private citizen. 410 U.S. 925 (1973).
In 1968 a Chicago policeman named Nuccio shot and killed a youth named Nelson. The state authorities prosecuted Nuccio for the homicide and ultimately obtained a conviction for murder in the second degree. The Nelson family retained petitioner Elmer Gertz, a reputable attorney, to represent them in civil litigation against Nuccio.
Respondent publishes American Opinion, a monthly outlet for the views of the John Birch Society. Early in the 1960's the magazine began to warn of a nationwide conspiracy to discredit local law enforcement agencies and create in their stead a national police force capable of supporting a Communist dictatorship. As part of the continuing effort to alert the public to this assumed danger, the managing editor of American Opinion commissioned an article on the murder trial of Officer Nuccio. For this purpose he engaged a regular contributor to the magazine. In March 1969 respondent published the resulting article under the title "FRAME-UP: Richard
In his capacity as counsel for the Nelson family in the civil litigation, petitioner attended the coroner's inquest into the boy's death and initiated actions for damages, but he neither discussed Officer Nuccio with the press nor played any part in the criminal proceeding. Notwithstanding petitioner's remote connection with the prosecution of Nuccio, respondent's magazine portrayed him as an architect of the "frame-up." According to the article, the police file on petitioner took "a big, Irish cop to lift." The article stated that petitioner had been an official of the "Marxist League for Industrial Democracy, originally known as the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which has advocated the violent seizure of our government." It labeled Gertz a "Leninist" and a "Communist-fronter." It also stated that Gertz had been an officer of the National Lawyers Guild, described as a Communist organization that "probably did more than any other outfit to plan the Communist attack on the Chicago police during the 1968 Democratic Convention."
These statements contained serious inaccuracies. The implication that petitioner had a criminal record was false. Petitioner had been a member and officer of the National Lawyers Guild some 15 years earlier, but there was no evidence that he or that organization had taken any part in planning the 1968 demonstrations in Chicago. There was also no basis for the charge that petitioner was a "Leninist" or a "Communist-fronter." And he had never been a member of the "Marxist League for Industrial Democracy" or the "Intercollegiate Socialist Society."
Petitioner filed a diversity action for libel in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He claimed that the falsehoods published by respondent injured his reputation as a lawyer and a citizen. Before filing an answer, respondent moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, apparently on the ground that petitioner failed to allege special damages. But the court ruled that statements contained in the article constituted libel per se under Illinois law and that consequently petitioner need not plead special damages. 306 F.Supp. 310 (1969).
After answering the complaint, respondent filed a pretrial motion for summary judgment, claiming a constitutional privilege against liability for defamation.
The District Court denied respondent's motion for summary judgment in a memorandum opinion of September 16, 1970. The court did not dispute respondent's claim to the protection of the New York Times standard. Rather, it concluded that petitioner might overcome the constitutional privilege by making a factual showing sufficient to prove publication of defamatory falsehood in reckless disregard of the truth. During the course of the trial, however, it became clear that the trial court had not accepted all of respondent's asserted grounds for applying the New York Times rule to this case. It thought that respondent's claim to the protection of the constitutional privilege depended on the contention that petitioner was either a public official under the New York Times decision or a public figure under Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967), apparently discounting the argument that a privilege would arise from the presence of a public issue. After all the evidence had been presented but before submission of the case to the jury, the court ruled in effect that petitioner was neither a public official nor a public figure. It added that, if he were, the resulting application of the New York Times standard would require a directed verdict for respondent. Because some statements in the article constituted libel per se
Following the jury verdict and on further reflection, the District Court concluded that the New York Times standard should govern this case even though petitioner was not a public official or public figure. It accepted respondent's contention that that privilege protected discussion of any public issue without regard to the status of a person defamed therein. Accordingly, the court entered judgment for respondent notwithstanding the jury's verdict.
Petitioner appealed to contest the applicability of the New York Times standard to this case. Although the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit doubted the correctness of the District Court's determination that petitioner was not a public figure, it did not overturn that finding.
The principal issue in this case is whether a newspaper or broadcaster that publishes defamatory falsehoods about an individual who is neither a public official nor a public figure may claim a constitutional privilege against liability for the injury inflicted by those statements. The Court considered this question on the rather different set of facts presented in Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29 (1971). Rosenbloom, a distributor of nudist magazines, was arrested for selling allegedly obscene material while making
This Court affirmed the decision below, but no majority could agree on a controlling rationale. The eight Justices
In affirming the trial court's judgment in the instant case, the Court of Appeals relied on MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN'S
In his opinion for the plurality in Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29 (1971), MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN took the New York Times privilege one step further. He concluded that its protection should extend to defamatory falsehoods relating to private persons if the statements concerned matters of general or public interest. He abjured the suggested distinction between public officials and public figures on the one hand and private individuals on the other. He focused instead on society's interest in learning about certain issues: "If a matter is a subject of public or general interest, it cannot suddenly become less so merely because a private individual is involved, or because in some sense the individual did not `voluntarily' choose to become involved." Id., at 43. Thus, under the plurality opinion, a private citizen involuntarily associated with a matter of general interest has no recourse for injury to his reputation unless he can satisfy the demanding requirements of the New York Times test.
Two Members of the Court concurred in the result in Rosenbloom but departed from the reasoning of the plurality. Mr. Justice Black restated his view, long shared by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, that the First Amendment cloaks the news media with an absolute and indefeasible immunity from liability for defamation. Id., at 57. MR JUSTICE WHITE concurred on a narrower ground. Ibid. He concluded that "the First Amendment gives the press and the broadcast media a privilege to report and comment upon the official actions of public
Mr. Justice Harlan dissented. Although he had joined the opinion of the Court in New York Times, in Curtis Publishing Co. he had contested the extension of the privilege to public figures. There he had argued that a public figure who held no governmental office should be allowed to recover damages for defamation "on a showing of highly unreasonable conduct constituting an extreme departure from the standards of investigation and reporting ordinarily adhered to by responsible publishers." 388 U. S., at 155. In his Curtis Publishing Co. opinion Mr. Justice Harlan had distinguished New York Times primarily on the ground that defamation actions by public officials "lay close to seditious libel . . . ." Id., at 153. Recovery of damages by one who held no public office, however, could not "be viewed as a vindication of governmental policy." Id., at 154. Additionally, he had intimated that, because most public officials enjoyed absolute immunity from liability for their own defamatory utterances under Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564 (1959), they lacked a strong claim to the protection of the courts.
In Rosenbloom Mr. Justice Harlan modified these views. He acquiesced in the application of the privilege to defamation of public figures but argued that a different rule should obtain where defamatory falsehood harmed a private individual. He noted that a private person has less likelihood "of securing access to channels of communication sufficient to rebut falsehoods concerning him" than do public officials and public figures, 403 U. S., at 70, and has not voluntarily placed himself in the
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL dissented in Rosenbloom in an opinion joined by MR. JUSTICE STEWART. Id., at 78. He thought that the plurality's "public or general interest" test for determining the applicability of the New York Times privilege would involve the courts in the dangerous business of deciding "what information is relevant to self-government." Id., at 79. He also contended that the plurality's position inadequately served "society's interest in protecting private individuals from being thrust into the public eye by the distorting light of defamation." Ibid. MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL therefore reached the conclusion, also reached by Mr. Justice Harlan, that the States should be "essentially free to continue the evolution of the common law of defamation and to articulate whatever fault standard best suits the State's need," so long as the States did not impose liability without fault. Id., at 86. The principal point of disagreement among the three dissenters concerned punitive damages. Whereas Mr. Justice Harlan thought that the States could allow punitive damages in amounts bearing "a reasonable and purposeful relationship to the actual harm done . . . ," id., at 75, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL concluded that the size and unpredictability of jury awards of exemplary damages unnecessarily exacerbated the problems of media self-censorship and that such damages should therefore be forbidden.
We begin with the common ground. Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but
Although the erroneous statement of fact is not worthy of constitutional protection, it is nevertheless inevitable in free debate. As James Madison pointed out in the Report on the Virginia Resolutions of 1798: "Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press." 4 J. Elliot, Debates on the Federal Constitution of 1787, p. 571 (1876). And punishment of error runs the risk of inducing a cautious and restrictive exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and press. Our decisions recognize that a rule of strict liability that compels a publisher or broadcaster to guarantee the accuracy of his factual assertions may lead to intolerable self-censorship. Allowing the media to avoid liability only by proving the truth of all injurious statements does not accord adequate protection to First Amendment liberties. As the Court stated in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, at 279: "Allowance of the defense of truth,
The need to avoid self-censorship by the news media is, however, not the only societal value at issue. If it were, this Court would have embraced long ago the view that publishers and broadcasters enjoy an unconditional and indefeasible immunity from liability for defamation. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, at 293 (Black, J., concurring); Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U. S., at 80 (DOUGLAS, J., concurring); Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U. S., at 170 (opinion of Black, J.). Such a rule would, indeed, obviate the fear that the prospect of civil liability for injurious falsehood might dissuade a timorous press from the effective exercise of First Amendment freedoms. Yet absolute protection for the communications media requires a total sacrifice of the competing value served by the law of defamation.
The legitimate state interest underlying the law of libel is the compensation of individuals for the harm inflicted on them by defamatory falsehood. We would not lightly require the State to abandon this purpose, for, as MR. JUSTICE STEWART has reminded us, the individual's right to the protection of his own good name
The New York Times standard defines the level of constitutional protection appropriate to the context of defamation of a public person. Those who, by reason of the notoriety of their achievements or the vigor and success with which they seek the public's attention, are properly classed as public figures and those who hold governmental office may recover for injury to reputation only on clear and convincing proof that the defamatory falsehood was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth. This standard administers an extremely powerful antidote to the inducement to media self-censorship of the common-law rule of strict liability for libel and slander. And it exacts a correspondingly high price from the victims of defamatory falsehood. Plainly many deserving plaintiffs, including some intentionally subjected to injury, will be unable to surmount the barrier of the New York Times test. Despite this
Theoretically, of course, the balance between the needs of the press and the individual's claim to compensation for wrongful injury might be struck on a case-by-case basis. As Mr. Justice Harlan hypothesized, "it might seem, purely as an abstract matter, that the most utilitarian approach would be to scrutinize carefully every jury verdict in every libel case, in order to ascertain whether the final judgment leaves fully protected whatever First Amendment values transcend the legitimate state interest in protecting the particular plaintiff who prevailed." Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U. S., at 63 (footnote omitted). But this approach would lead to unpredictable results and uncertain expectations, and it could render our duty to supervise the lower courts unmanageable. Because an ad hoc resolution of the competing interests at stake in each particular case is not feasible, we must lay down broad rules of general
With that caveat we have no difficulty in distinguishing among defamation plaintiffs. The first remedy of any victim of defamation is self-help—using available opportunities to contradict the lie or correct the error and thereby to minimize its adverse impact on reputation. Public officials and public figures usually enjoy significantly greater access to the channels of effective communication and hence have a more realistic opportunity to counteract false statements than private individuals normally enjoy.
More important than the likelihood that private individuals will lack effective opportunities for rebuttal, there is a compelling normative consideration underlying the distinction between public and private defamation plaintiffs. An individual who decides to seek governmental office must accept certain necessary consequences of that involvement in public affairs. He runs the risk of closer public scrutiny than might otherwise be the case. And society's interest in the officers of government is not strictly limited to the formal discharge of official duties. As the Court pointed out in Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U. S., at 77, the public's interest extends to "anything
Those classed as public figures stand in a similar position. Hypothetically, it may be possible for someone to become a public figure through no purposeful action of his own, but the instances of truly involuntary public figures must be exceedingly rare. For the most part those who attain this status have assumed roles of especial prominence in the affairs of society. Some occupy positions of such persuasive power and influence that they are deemed public figures for all purposes. More commonly, those classed as public figures have thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved. In either event, they invite attention and comment.
Even if the foregoing generalities do not obtain in every instance, the communications media are entitled to act on the assumption that public officials and public figures have voluntarily exposed themselves to increased risk of injury from defamatory falsehood concerning them. No such assumption is justified with respect to a private individual. He has not accepted public office or assumed an "influential role in ordering society." Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U. S., at 164 (Warren, C. J., concurring in result). He has relinquished no part of his interest in the protection of his own good name, and consequently he has a more compelling call on the courts for redress of injury inflicted by defamatory falsehood. Thus, private individuals are not only more vulnerable to injury than public officials and public figures; they are also more deserving of recovery.
For these reasons we conclude that the States should retain substantial latitude in their efforts to enforce a
Our accommodation of the competing values at stake in defamation suits by private individuals allows the States to impose liability on the publisher or broadcaster of defamatory falsehood on a less demanding showing than that required by New York Times. This conclusion is not based on a belief that the considerations which prompted the adoption of the New York Times privilege for defamation of public officials and its extension to public figures are wholly inapplicable to the context of private individuals. Rather, we endorse this approach in recognition of the strong and legitimate state interest in compensating private individuals for injury to reputation.
The common law of defamation is an oddity of tort law, for it allows recovery of purportedly compensatory damages without evidence of actual loss. Under the traditional rules pertaining to actions for libel, the existence of injury is presumed from the fact of publication. Juries may award substantial sums as compensation for supposed damage to reputation without any proof that such harm actually occurred. The largely uncontrolled discretion of juries to award damages where there is no loss unnecessarily compounds the potential of any system of liability for defamatory falsehood to inhibit the vigorous exercise of First Amendment freedoms. Additionally, the doctrine of presumed damages invites juries to punish unpopular opinion rather than to compensate individuals for injury sustained by the publication of a false fact. More to the point, the States have no substantial interest in securing for plaintiffs such as this petitioner gratuitous awards of money damages far in excess of any actual injury.
We would not, of course, invalidate state law simply because we doubt its wisdom, but here we are attempting to reconcile state law with a competing interest grounded in the constitutional command of the First Amendment. It is therefore appropriate to require that state remedies for defamatory falsehood reach no farther than is necessary to protect the legitimate interest involved. It is necessary to restrict defamation plaintiffs who do not prove knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth to compensation for actual injury. We
We also find no justification for allowing awards of punitive damages against publishers and broadcasters held liable under state-defined standards of liability for defamation. In most jurisdictions jury discretion over the amounts awarded is limited only by the gentle rule that they not be excessive. Consequently, juries assess punitive damages in wholly unpredictable amounts bearing no necessary relation to the actual harm caused. And they remain free to use their discretion selectively to punish expressions of unpopular views. Like the doctrine of presumed damages, jury discretion to award punitive damages unnecessarily exacerbates the danger of media self-censorship, but, unlike the former rule, punitive damages are wholly irrelevant to the state interest that justifies a negligence standard for private defamation actions. They are not compensation for injury. Instead, they are private fines levied by civil juries to punish reprehensible conduct and to deter its future occurrence. In short, the private defamation plaintiff who established liability under a less demanding standard than that stated by New York Times may recover only such damages as are sufficient to compensate him for actual injury.
Notwithstanding our refusal to extend the New York Times privilege to defamation of private individuals, respondent contends that we should affirm the judgment below on the ground that petitioner is either a public official or a public figure. There is little basis for the former assertion. Several years prior to the present incident, petitioner had served briefly on housing committees appointed by the mayor of Chicago, but at the time of publication he had never held any remunerative governmental position. Respondent admits this but argues that petitioner's appearance at the coroner's inquest rendered him a "de facto public official." Our cases recognize no such concept. Respondent's suggestion would sweep all lawyers under the New York Times rule as officers of the court and distort the plain meaning of the "public official" category beyond all recognition. We decline to follow it.
Respondent's characterization of petitioner as a public figure raises a different question. That designation may rest on either of two alternative bases. In some instances an individual may achieve such pervasive fame or notoriety that he becomes a public figure for all purposes and in all contexts. More commonly, an individual voluntarily injects himself or is drawn into a particular public controversy and thereby becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues. In either case such persons assume special prominence in the resolution of public questions.
Petitioner has long been active in community and professional affairs. He has served as an officer of local civic groups and of various professional organizations, and he has published several books and articles on legal subjects. Although petitioner was consequently well known in some circles, he had achieved no general fame
In this context it is plain that petitioner was not a public figure. He played a minimal role at the coroner's inquest, and his participation related solely to his representation of a private client. He took no part in the criminal prosecution of Officer Nuccio. Moreover, he never discussed either the criminal or civil litigation with the press and was never quoted as having done so. He plainly did not thrust himself into the vortex of this public issue, nor did he engage the public's attention in an attempt to influence its outcome. We are persuaded that the trial court did not err in refusing to characterize petitioner as a public figure for the purpose of this litigation.
We therefore conclude that the New York Times standard is inapplicable to this case and that the trial court erred in entering judgment for respondent. Because the jury was allowed to impose liability without fault and was permitted to presume damages without proof of injury, a new trial is necessary. We reverse and remand for further proceedings in accord with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
I joined MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN'S opinion for the plurality in Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29 (1971). I did so because I concluded that, given New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), and its progeny (noted by the Court, ante, at 334-336, n. 6), as well as Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts and Associated Press v. Walker, 388 U.S. 130 (1967), the step taken in Rosenbloom, extending the New York Times doctrine to an event of public or general interest, was logical and inevitable. A majority of the Court evidently thought otherwise, as is particularly evidenced by MR. JUSTICE WHITE'S separate concurring opinion there and by the respective dissenting opinions of Mr. Justice Harlan and of MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL joined by MR. JUSTICE STEWART.
The Court today refuses to apply New York Times to the private individual, as contrasted with the public official and the public figure. It thus withdraws to the factual limits of the pre-Rosenbloom cases. It thereby fixes the outer boundary of the New York Times doctrine and says that beyond that boundary, a State is free to define for itself the appropriate standard of media liability so long as it does not impose liability without fault. As my joinder in Rosenbloom's plurality opinion would intimate, I sense some illogic in this.
The Court, however, seeks today to strike a balance between competing values where necessarily uncertain assumptions about human behavior color the result. Although the Court's opinion in the present case departs from the rationale of the Rosenbloom plurality, in that the Court now conditions a libel action by a private person upon a showing of negligence, as contrasted with a showing of willful or reckless disregard, I am willing to
1. By removing the specters of presumed and punitive damages in the absence of New York Times malice, the Court eliminates significant and powerful motives for self-censorship that otherwise are present in the traditional libel action. By so doing, the Court leaves what should prove to be sufficient and adequate breathing space for a vigorous press. What the Court has done, I believe, will have little, if any, practical effect on the functioning of responsible journalism.
2. The Court was sadly fractionated in Rosenbloom. A result of that kind inevitably leads to uncertainty. I feel that it is of profound importance for the Court to come to rest in the defamation area and to have a clearly defined majority position that eliminates the unsureness engendered by Rosenbloom's diversity. If my vote were not needed to create a majority, I would adhere to my prior view. A definitive ruling, however, is paramount. See Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U. S., at 170 (Black, J., concurring); Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 398 (1967) (Black, J., concurring); United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62, 97 (1971) (separate statement).
For these reasons, I join the opinion and the judgment of the Court.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, dissenting.
The doctrines of the law of defamation have had a gradual evolution primarily in the state courts. In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), and its progeny this Court entered this field.
Agreement or disagreement with the law as it has evolved to this time does not alter the fact that it has been orderly development with a consistent basic rationale. In today's opinion the Court abandons the traditional
The petitioner here was performing a professional representative role as an advocate in the highest tradition of the law, and under that tradition the advocate is not to be invidiously identified with his client. The important public policy which underlies this tradition—the right to counsel—would be gravely jeopardized if every lawyer who takes an "unpopular" case, civil or criminal, would automatically become fair game for irresponsible reporters and editors who might, for example, describe the lawyer as a "mob mouthpiece" for representing a client with a serious prior criminal record, or as an "ambulance chaser" for representing a claimant in a personal injury action.
I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for reinstatement of the verdict of the jury and the entry of an appropriate judgment on that verdict.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.
The Court describes this case as a return to the struggle of "defin[ing] the proper accommodation between the law of defamation and the freedoms of speech and press protected by the First Amendment." It is indeed a struggle, once described by Mr. Justice Black as "the same
Unlike the right of privacy which, by the terms of the Fourth Amendment, must be accommodated with reasonable searches and seizures and warrants issued by magistrates, the rights of free speech and of a free press were protected by the Framers in verbiage whose proscription seems clear. I have stated before my view that the First Amendment would bar Congress from passing any libel law.
With the First Amendment made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth,
There can be no doubt that a State impinges upon free and open discussion when it sanctions the imposition of damages for such discussion through its civil libel laws. Discussion of public affairs is often marked by highly charged emotions, and jurymen, not unlike us all, are subject to those emotions. It is indeed this very type of speech which is the reason for the First Amendment since speech which arouses little emotion is little in need of protection. The vehicle for publication in this case was the American Opinion, a most controversial periodical which disseminates the views of the John Birch Society, an organization which many deem to be
It is only the hardy publisher who will engage in discussion in the face of such risk, and the Court's preoccupation with proliferating standards in the area of libel increases the risks. It matters little whether the standard be articulated as "malice" or "reckless disregard of the truth" or "negligence," for jury determinations by any of those criteria are virtually unreviewable. This Court, in its continuing delineation of variegated mantles of First Amendment protection, is, like the potential publisher, left with only speculation on how jury findings were influenced by the effect the subject matter of the publication had upon the minds and viscera of the jury. The standard announced today leaves the States free to "define for themselves the appropriate standard of liability for a publisher or broadcaster" in the circumstances of this case. This of course leaves the simple negligence standard as an option, with the jury free to impose damages upon a finding that the publisher failed to act as "a reasonable man." With such continued erosion of First Amendment protection, I fear that it may well be the reasonable man who refrains from speaking.
Since in my view the First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the imposition of damages upon respondent for this discussion of public affairs, I would affirm the judgment below.
I agree with the conclusion, expressed in Part V of the Court's opinion, that, at the time of publication of respondent's article, petitioner could not properly have been viewed as either a "public official" or "public figure"; instead, respondent's article, dealing with an alleged conspiracy to discredit local police forces, concerned petitioner's purported involvement in "an event of public or general interest." Roosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29, 31-32 (1971); see ante, at 331-332, n. 4. I cannot agree, however, that free and robust debate— so essential to the proper functioning of our system of government—is permitted adequate "breathing space," NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 433 (1963), when, as the Court holds, the States may impose all but strict liability for defamation if the defamed party is a private person and "the substance of the defamatory statement `makes substantial danger to reputation apparent.' " Ante, at 348.
The Court does not hold that First Amendment guarantees do not extend to speech concerning private persons' involvement in events of public or general interest. It recognizes that self-governance in this country perseveres because of our "profound national commitment
The teaching to be distilled from our prior cases is that, while public interest in events may at times be influenced by the notoriety of the individuals involved, "[t]he public's primary interest is in the event[,] . . . the conduct of the participant and the content, effect, and significance of the conduct . . . ." Rosenbloom, supra, at 43. Matters of public or general interest do not "suddenly become less so merely because a private individual is involved, or because in some sense the individual did not `voluntarily' choose to become involved." Ibid. See Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 388 (1967).
Although acknowledging that First Amendment values are of no less significance when media reports concern private persons' involvement in matters of public concern, the Court refuses to provide, in such cases, the same level of constitutional protection that has been afforded the media in the context of defamation of public persons. The accommodation that this Court has established between free speech and libel laws in cases involving public officials and public figures—that defamatory falsehood be shown by clear and convincing evidence to have been published with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard of truth—is not apt, the Court holds, because
While these arguments are forcefully and eloquently presented, I cannot accept them, for the reasons I stated in Rosenbloom:
Moreover, the argument that private persons should not be required to prove New York Times knowing-or-reckless falsity because they do not assume the risk of defamation by freely entering the public arena "bears little relationship either to the values protected by the First Amendment or to the nature of our society." Id., at 47. Social interaction exposes all of us to some degree of public view. This Court has observed that "[t]he risk of this exposure is an essential incident of life in a society which places a primary value on freedom of speech and of press." Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U. S., at 388. Therefore,
To be sure, no one commends publications which defame the good name and reputation of any person: "In an ideal world, the responsibility of the press would match the freedom and public trust given it." Id., at
We recognized in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, at 279, that a rule requiring a critic of official conduct to guarantee the truth of all of his factual contentions would inevitably lead to self-censorship when
And, most hazardous, the flexibility which inheres in the reasonable-care standard will create the danger that a jury will convert it into "an instrument for the suppression of those `vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks,' . . . which must be protected if the guarantees of the First and Fourteenth Amendments are to prevail." Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265, 277 (1971).
The Court does not discount altogether the danger that jurors will punish for the expression of unpopular opinions. This probability accounts for the Court's limitation that "the States may not permit recovery of presumed or punitive damages, at least when liability is not based on a showing of knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth." Ante, at 349. But plainly a jury's latitude to impose liability for want of due care poses a far greater threat of suppressing unpopular views than does a possible recovery of presumed or punitive damages. Moreover, the Court's broad-ranging examples of "actual injury," including impairment of reputation and standing in the community, as well as personal humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering, inevitably allow a jury bent on punishing expression of unpopular views a formidable weapon for doing so. Finally, even a limitation of recovery to "actual injury" —however much it reduces the size or frequency of recoveries—will not provide the necessary elbowroom for First Amendment expression.
On the other hand, the uncertainties which the media face under today's decision are largely avoided by the New York Times standard. I reject the argument that my Rosenbloom view improperly commits to judges the task of determining what is and what is not an issue of "general or public interest."
Since petitioner failed, after having been given a full and fair opportunity, to prove that respondent published the disputed article with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of the truth, see ante, at 329-330, n. 2, I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, dissenting.
For some 200 years—from the very founding of the Nation—the law of defamation and right of the ordinary citizen to recover for false publication injurious to his reputation have been almost exclusively the business of
But now, using that Amendment as the chosen instrument, the Court, in a few printed pages, has federalized major aspects of libel law by declaring unconstitutional in important respects the prevailing defamation law in all or most of the 50 States. That result is accomplished by requiring the plaintiff in each and every defamation action to prove not only the defendant's culpability beyond his act of publishing defamatory material but also actual damage to reputation resulting from the publication. Moreover, punitive damages may not be recovered by showing malice in the traditional sense of ill will; knowing falsehood or reckless disregard of the truth will now be required.
I assume these sweeping changes will be popular with the press, but this is not the road to salvation for a court of law. As I see it, there are wholly insufficient grounds for scuttling the libel laws of the States in such wholesale fashion, to say nothing of deprecating the reputation interest of ordinary citizens and rendering them powerless to protect themselves. I do not suggest that the decision is illegitimate or beyond the bounds of judicial review, but it is an ill-considered exercise of the power entrusted to this Court, particularly when the
Lest there be any mistake about it, the changes wrought by the Court's decision cut very deeply. In 1938, the Restatement of Torts reflected the historic rule that publication in written form of defamatory material— material tending "so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him"
If the defamation was not libel but slander, it was actionable per se only if it imputed a criminal offense; a venereal or loathsome and communicable disease; improper conduct of a lawful business; or unchastity by a woman. Id., § 570. To be actionable, all other types of slanderous statements required proof of special damage other than actual loss of reputation or emotional distress, that special damage almost always being in the form of material or pecuniary loss of some kind. Id., § 575 and comment b, pp. 185-187.
Damages for libel or slander per se included "harm caused thereby to the reputation of the person defamed or in the absence of proof of such harm, for the harm which normally results from such a defamation." Id., § 621. At the heart of the libel-and-slander-per-se
In surveying the current state of the law, the proposed Restatement (Second) observed that "[a]ll courts except Virginia agree that any libel which is defamatory upon its face is actionable without proof of damage . . . ." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 569, p. 84 (Tent. Draft No. 11, Apr. 15, 1965). Ten jurisdictions continued to support the old rule that libel not defamatory on its face and whose innuendo depends on extrinsic facts is actionable without proof of damage although slander would not be. Twenty-four jurisdictions were said to hold that libel not defamatory on its face is to be treated like slander and thus not actionable without proof of damage where
Unquestionably, state law continued to recognize some absolute, as well as some conditional, privileges to publish defamatory materials, including the privilege of fair comment in defined situations. But it remained true that in a wide range of situations, the ordinary citizen could make out a prima facie case without proving more than a defamatory publication and could recover general damages for injury to his reputation unless defeated by the defense of truth.
The impact of today's decision on the traditional law of libel is immediately obvious and indisputable. No longer will the plaintiff be able to rest his case with proof of a libel defamatory on its face or proof of a slander historically actionable per se. In addition, he must prove some further degree of culpable conduct on the part of the
So too, the requirement of proving special injury to reputation before general damages may be awarded will clearly eliminate the prevailing rule, worked out over a very long period of time, that, in the case of defamations not actionable per se, the recovery of general damages for injury to reputation may also be had if some form of material or pecuniary loss is proved. Finally, an inflexible federal standard is imposed for the award of punitive damages. No longer will it be enough to prove ill will and an attempt to injure.
These are radical changes in the law and severe invasions of the prerogatives of the States. They should
Of course, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964); Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75 (1966), and Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts and Associated Press v. Walker, 388 U.S. 130 (1967), have themselves worked major changes in defamation law. Public officials and public figures, if they are to recover general damages for injury to reputation, must prove knowing falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth. The States were required to conform to these decisions. Thereafter in Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29 (1971), three Members of the Court urged that the same standard be applied whenever the publication concerned an event of public or general concern. But none of these cases purported to foreclose in all circumstances recovery by the ordinary citizen on traditional standards of liability, and until today, a majority of the Court had not supported the proposition that, given liability, a court or jury may not award general damages in a reasonable amount without further proof of injury.
In the brief period since Rosenbloom was decided, at least 17 States and several federal courts of appeals have felt obliged to consider the New York Times constitutional privilege for liability as extending to, in the words of the Rosenbloom plurality, "all discussion and communication involving matters of public or general concern." Id., at 44.
The Court does not contend, and it could hardly do so, that those who wrote the First Amendment intended to prohibit the Federal Government, within its sphere of influence in the Territories and the District of Columbia, from providing the private citizen a peaceful remedy for damaging falsehood. At the time of the adoption of the First Amendment, many of the consequences of libel law already described had developed, particularly the rule that libels and some slanders were so inherently injurious that they were actionable without special proof of damage to reputation. As the Court pointed out in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 482 (1957), 10 of the 14 States that had ratified the Constitution by 1792 had themselves provided constitutional guarantees for free
Scant, if any, evidence exists that the First Amendment was intended to abolish the common law of libel, at least to the extent of depriving ordinary citizens of meaningful redress against their defamers. On the contrary,
Moreover, consistent with the Blackstone formula,
See also Leflar, The Free-ness of Free Speech, 15 Vand. L. Rev. 1073, 1080-1081 (1962).
Professor Zechariah Chafee, a noted First Amendment scholar, has persuasively argued that conditions in 1791 "do not arbitrarily fix the division between lawful and unlawful speech for all time." Free Speech in the United States 14 (1954).
The debates in Congress and the States over the Bill of Rights are unclear and inconclusive on any articulated intention of the Framers as to the free press guarantee.
Doubt has been expressed that the Members of Congress envisioned the First Amendment as reaching even this far. Merin, Libel and the Supreme Court, 11 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 371, § 379-380 (1969).
This Court in bygone years has repeatedly dealt with libel and slander actions from the District of Columbia and from the Territories. Although in these cases First Amendment considerations were not expressly discussed, the opinions of the Court unmistakably revealed that the classic law of libel was firmly in place in those areas where federal law controlled. See, e. g., Washington Post Co. v. Chaloner, 250 U.S. 290 (1919); Baker v. Warner, 231 U.S. 588 (1913); Nalle v. Oyster, 230 U.S. 165 (1913); Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138 (1904); Pollard v. Lyon, 91 U.S. 225 (1876); White v. Nicholls, 3 How. 266 (1845).
The Court's consistent view prior to New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), was that defamatory
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-572 (1942) (footnotes omitted), reflected the same view:
Beauharnais v. Illinois, 343 U.S. 250, 254-257 (1952) (footnotes omitted), repeated the Chaplinsky statement, nothing also that nowhere at the time of the adoption of
The Court could not accept the generality of this historic view in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra. There the Court held that the First Amendment was intended to forbid actions for seditious libel and that defamation actions by public officials were therefore not subject to the traditional law of libel and slander. If these officials (and, later, public figures occupying semiofficial or influential, although private, positions) were to recover, they were required to prove not only that the publication was false but also that it was knowingly false or published with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity. This view that the First Amendment was written to forbid
The central meaning of New York Times, and for me the First Amendment as it relates to libel laws, is that seditious libel—criticism of government and public officials —falls beyond the police power of the State. 376 U. S., at 273-276.
I do not labor the foregoing matters to contend that the Court is foreclosed from reconsidering prior interpretations of the First Amendment.
The Court concedes that the dangers of self-censorship are insufficient to override the state interest in protecting the reputation of private individuals who are both more helpless and more deserving of state concern than public persons with more access to the media to defend themselves. It therefore refuses to condition the private plaintiff's recovery on a showing of intentional or reckless falsehood as required by New York Times. But the Court nevertheless extends the reach of the First Amendment to all defamation actions by requiring that the ordinary
The Court proceeds as though it were writing on tabula rasa and suggests that it must mediate between two unacceptable choices—on the one hand, the rigors of the New York Times rule which the Court thinks would give insufficient recognition to the interest of the private plaintiff, and, on the other hand, the prospect of imposing "liability without fault" on the press and others who are charged with defamatory utterances. Totally ignoring history and settled First Amendment law, the Court purports to arrive at an "equitable compromise," rejecting both what it considers faultless liability and New York Times malice, but insisting on some intermediate degree of fault. Of course, the Court necessarily discards the contrary judgment arrived at in the 50 States that the reputation interest of the private citizen is deserving of considerably more protection.
The Court evinces a deep-seated antipathy to "liability without fault." But this catch-phrase has no talismanic significance and is almost meaningless in this context where the Court appears to be addressing those libels and slanders that are defamatory on their face and where
In these circumstances, the law has heretofore put the risk of falsehood on the publisher where the victim is a private citizen and no grounds of special privilege are invoked. The Court would now shift this risk to the victim, even though he has done nothing to invite the calumny, is wholly innocent of fault, and is helpless to avoid his injury. I doubt that jurisprudential resistance to liability without fault is sufficient ground for employing the First Amendment to revolutionize the law of libel, and in my view, that body of legal rules poses no realistic threat to the press and its service to the public. The press today is vigorous and robust. To me, it is quite incredible to suggest that threats of libel suits from private citizens are causing the press to refrain from publishing the truth. I know of no hard facts to support that proposition, and the Court furnishes none.
The communications industry has increasingly become concentrated in a few powerful hands operating very lucrative businesses reaching across the Nation and into almost every home.
In any event, if the Court's principal concern is to protect the communications industry from large libel judgments, it would appear that its new requirements with respect to general and punitive damages would be ample protection. Why it also feels compelled to escalate the threshold standard of liability I cannot fathom,
It is difficult for me to understand why the ordinary citizen should himself carry the risk of damage and suffer the injury in order to vindicate First Amendment values by protecting the press and others from liability for circulating false information. This is particularly true because such statements serve no purpose whatsoever in furthering the public interest or the search for truth but, on the contrary, may frustrate that search and at the same time inflict great injury on the defenseless individual. The owners of the press and the stockholders of the communications enterprises can much better bear the burden. And if they cannot, the public at large should somehow pay for what is essentially a public benefit derived at private expense.
Not content with escalating the threshold requirements of establishing liability, the Court abolishes the ordinary damages rule, undisturbed by New York Times
I have said before, but it bears repeating, that even if the plaintiff should recover no monetary damages, he should be able to prevail and have a judgment that the publication is false. But beyond that, courts and legislatures literally for centuries have thought that in the generality of cases, libeled plaintiffs will be seriously shortchanged if they must prove the extent of the injury to their reputations. Even where libels or slanders are not on their face defamatory and special damage must be shown, when that showing is made, general damages for reputation injury are recoverable without specific proof.
The Court fears uncontrolled awards of damages by juries, but that not only denigrates the good sense of most jurors—it fails to consider the role of trial and appellate courts in limiting excessive jury verdicts where no reasonable relationship exists between the amount awarded and the injury sustained.
The new rule with respect to general damages appears to apply to all libels or slanders, whether defamatory on their face or not, except, I gather, when the plaintiff proves intentional falsehood or reckless disregard. Although the impact of the publication on the victim is the same, in such circumstances the injury to reputation may apparently be presumed in accordance with the traditional rule. Why a defamatory statement is more apt to cause injury if the lie is intentional than when it is only negligent, I fail to understand. I suggest that judges and juries who must live by these rules will find them equally incomprehensible.
With a flourish of the pen, the Court also discards the prevailing rule in libel and slander actions that punitive damages may be awarded on the classic grounds of common-law malice, that is, " `[a]ctual malice' in the sense of ill will or fraud or reckless indifference to consequences."
I note also the questionable premise that "juries assess punitive damages in wholly unpredictable amounts bearing no necessary relation to the actual harm caused." Ibid. This represents an inaccurate view of established practice, "another of those situations in which judges, largely unfamiliar with the relatively rare actions for defamation, rely on words without really going behind them . . . ."
The Court points to absolutely no empirical evidence to substantiate its premise. For my part, I would require something more substantial than an undifferentiated fear of unduly burdensome punitive damages awards before retooling the established common-law rule and depriving the States of the opportunity to experiment with different methods for guarding against abuses.
Even assuming the possibility that some verdicts will be "excessive," I cannot subscribe to the Court's remedy. On its face it is a classic example of judicial overkill. Apparently abandoning the salutary New York Times policy of case-by-case " `independent examination of the whole record' . . . so as to assure ourselves that the judgment does not constitute a forbidden intrusion on
In disagreeing with the Court on the First Amendment's reach in the area of state libel laws protecting nonpublic persons, I do not repudiate the principle that the First Amendment "rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society." Associated Press v. United States, 326 U.S. 1, 20 (1945); see also Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, ante, at 260 (WHITE, J., concurring). I continue to subscribe to the New York Times decision and those decisions extending its protection to defamatory falsehoods about public persons. My quarrel with the Court stems
Recovery under common-law standards for defamatory falsehoods about a private individual, who enjoys no "general fame or notoriety in the community," who is not "pervasive[ly] involve[d] in the affairs of society," and who does not "thrust himself into the vortex of [a given] public issue . . . in an attempt to influence its outcome,"
I fail to see how the quality or quantity of public debate will be promoted by further emasculation of state libel laws for the benefit of the news media.
This case ultimately comes down to the importance the Court attaches to society's "pervasive and strong interest in preventing and redressing attacks upon reputation." Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U. S., at 86. From all that I have seen, the Court has miscalculated and denigrates that interest at a time when escalating assaults on individuality and personal dignity counsel otherwise.
The case against razing state libel laws is compelling when considered in light of the increasingly prominent role of mass media in our society and the awesome power it has placed in the hands of a select few.
Freedom and human dignity and decency are not antithetical. Indeed, they cannot survive without each other. Both exist side-by-side in precarious balance, one always threatening to overwhelm the other. Our experience as a Nation testifies to the ability of our democratic institutions to harness this dynamic tension. One of the mechanisms seized upon by the common law to accommodate these forces was the civil libel action tried before a jury of average citizens. And it has essentially fulfilled its role. Not because it is necessarily the best or only answer, but because
In our federal system, there must be room for allowing the States to take diverse approaches to these vexing questions. We should "continue to forbear from fettering the States with an adamant rule which may embarrass them in coping with their own peculiar problems. . . ." Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U. S., at 681 (Harlan, J., dissenting); see also Murnaghan, From Figment to Fiction to Philosophy—The Requirement of Proof of Damages in Libel Actions, 22 Cath. U. L. Rev. 1, 38 (1972).
For the foregoing reasons, I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the jury's verdict.
"When there is a factual dispute as to the existence of actual malice, summary judgment is improper.
"In the instant case a jury might infer from the evidence that [respondent's] failure to investigate the truth of the allegations, coupled with its receipt of communications challenging the factual accuracy of this author in the past, amounted to actual malice, that is, `reckless disregard' of whether the allegations were true or not. New York Times [Co.] v. Sullivan, [376 U.S. 254,] 279-280 [(1964)]." Mem. Op., Sept. 16, 1970.
Thus, petitioner knew or should have known that the outcome of the trial might hinge on his ability to show by clear and convincing evidence that respondent acted with reckless disregard for the truth. And this question remained open throughout the trial. Although the court initially concluded that the applicability of the New York Times rule depended on petitioner's status as a public figure, the court did not decide that petitioner was not a public figure until all the evidence had been presented. Thus petitioner had every opportunity, indeed incentive, to prove "reckless disregard" if he could, and he in fact attempted to do so. The record supports the observation by the Court of Appeals that petitioner "did present evidence of malice (both the `constitutional' and the `ill will' type) to support his damage claim and no such evidence was excluded . . . ." 471 F.2d 801, 807 n. 15 (1972).
"[Petitioner's] considerable stature as a lawyer, author, lecturer, and participant in matters of public import undermine[s] the validity of the assumption that he is not a `public figure' as that term has been used by the progeny of New York Times. Nevertheless, for purposes of decision we make that assumption and test the availability of the claim of privilege by the subject matter of the article." Id., at 805.
"[W]e may also assume that the article's basic thesis is false. Nevertheless, under the reasoning of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, even a false statement of fact made in support of a false thesis is protected unless made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of its truth or falsity. It would undermine the rule of that case to permit the actual falsity of a statement to determine whether or not its publisher is entitled to the benefit of the rule.
"If, therefore, we put to one side the false character of the article and treat it as though its contents were entirely true, it cannot be denied that the comments about [petitioner] were integral to its central thesis. They must be tested under the New York Times standard." 471 F. 2d, at 806.
We think that the Court of Appeals correctly rejected petitioner's argument. Its acceptance might lead to arbitrary imposition of liability on the basis of an unwise differentiation among kinds of factual misstatements. The present case illustrates the point. Respondent falsely portrayed petitioner as an architect of the criminal prosecution against Nuccio. On its face this inaccuracy does not appear defamatory. Respondent also falsely labeled petitioner a "Leninist" and a "Communist-fronter." These accusations are generally considered defamatory. Under petitioner's interpretation of the "public or general interest" test, respondent would have enjoyed a constitutional privilege to publish defamatory falsehood if petitioner had in fact been associated with the criminal prosecution. But this would mean that the seemingly innocuous mistake of confusing petitioner's role in the litigation against Officer Nuccio would destroy the privilege otherwise available for calling petitioner a Communist-fronter. Thus respondent's privilege to publish statements whose content should have alerted it to the danger of injury to reputation would hinge on the accuracy of statements that carried with them no such warning. Assuming that none of these statements was published with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth, we see no reason to distinguish among the inaccuracies.
In Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374 (1967), the Court applied the New York Times standard to actions under an unusual state statute. The statute did not create a cause of action for libel. Rather, it provided a remedy for unwanted publicity. Although the law allowed recovery of damages for harm caused by exposure to public attention rather than by factual inaccuracies, it recognized truth as a complete defense. Thus, nondefamatory factual errors could render a publisher liable for something akin to invasion of privacy. The Court ruled that the defendant in such an action could invoke the New York Times privilege regardless of the fame or anonymity of the plaintiff. Speaking for the Court, MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN declared that this holding was not an extension of New York Times but rather a parallel line of reasoning applying that standard to this discrete context:
"This is neither a libel action by a private individual nor a statutory action by a public official. Therefore, although the First Amendment principles pronounced in New York Times guide our conclusion, we reach that conclusion only by applying these principles in this discrete context. It therefore serves no purpose to distinguish the facts here from those in New York Times. Were this a libel action, the distinction which has been suggested between the relative opportunities of the public official and the private individual to rebut defamatory charges might be germane. And the additional state interest in the protection of the individual against damage to his reputation would be involved. Cf. Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 91 (STEWART, J., concurring)." 385 U. S., at 390-391.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE characterizes New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), as simply a case of seditious libel. Post, at 387. But that rationale is certainly inapplicable to Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967), where MR. JUSTICE WHITE joined four other Members of the Court to extend the knowing-or-reckless-falsity standard to media defamation of persons identified as public figures but not connected with the Government. MR. JUSTICE WHITE now suggests that he would abide by that vote, post, at 398, but the full thrust of his dissent—as we read it—contradicts that suggestion. Finally, in Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29, 57 (1971), MR. JUSTICE WHITE voted to apply the New York Times privilege to media defamation of an individual who was neither a public official nor a public figure. His opinion states that the knowing-or-reckless-falsity standard should apply to media "comment upon the official actions of public servants," id., at 62, including defamatory falsehood about a person arrested by the police. If adopted by the Court, this conclusion would significantly extend the New York Times privilege.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE asserts that our decision today "trivializes and denigrates the interest in reputation," Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, ante, at 262 (concurring opinion), that it "scuttle[s] the libel laws of the States in . . . wholesale fashion" and renders ordinary citizens "powerless to protect themselves." Post, at 370. In light of the progressive extension of the knowing-or-reckless-falsity requirement detailed in the preceding paragraph, one might have viewed today's decision allowing recovery under any standard save strict liability as a more generous accommodation of the state interest in comprehensive reputational injury to private individuals than the law presently affords.
"[The First Amendment] thereby guard[s] in the same sentence, and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press: insomuch, that whatever violates either, throws down the sanctuary which covers the others, and that libels, falsehood, and defamation, equally with heresy and false religion, are withheld from the cognizance of federal tribunals. . . ." 8 The Works of Thomas Jefferson 464-465 (Ford ed. 1904) (emphasis added).
A more regressive view of free speech has surfaced but it has thus far gained no judicial acceptance. Solicitor General Bork has stated:
"Constitutional protection should be accorded only to speech that is explicitly political. There is no basis for judicial intervention to protect any other form of expression, be it scientific, literary or that variety of expression we call obscene or pornographic. Moreover, within that category of speech we ordinarly call political, there should be no constitutional obstruction to laws making criminal any speech that advocates forcible overthrow of the government or the violation of any law." Bork, Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems, 47 Ind. L. J. 1, 20 (1971).
According to this view, Congress, upon finding a painting aesthetically displeasing or a novel poorly written or a revolutionary new scientific theory unsound could constitutionally prohibit exhibition of the painting, distribution of the book or discussion of the theory. Congress might also proscribe the advocacy of the violation of any law, apparently without regard to the law's constitutionality. Thus, were Congress to pass a blatantly invalid law such as one prohibiting newspaper editorials critical of the Government, a publisher might be punished for advocating its violation. Similarly, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., could have been punished for advising blacks to peacefully sit in the front of buses or to ask for service in restaurants segregated by law.
"Traditions, attitudes, and general rules of political conduct are far more important controls. The fear of opening a credibility gap, and thereby lessening one's influence, holds some participants in check. Institutional pressures in large organizations, including some of the press, have a similar effect; it is difficult for an organization to have an open policy of making intentionally false accusations." T. Emerson, The System of Freedom of Expression 538 (1970).
Typical of the press' own ongoing self-evaluation is a proposal to establish a national news council, composed of members drawn from the public and the journalism profession, to examine and report on complaints concerning the accuracy and fairness of news reporting by the largest newsgathering sources. Twentieth Century Fund Task Force Report for a National News Council, A Free and Responsive Press (1973). See also Comment, The Expanding Constitutional Protection for the News Media from Liability for Defamation: Predictability and the New Synthesis, 70 Mich. L. Rev. 1547, 1569-1570 (1972).
Parenthetically, my Brother WHITE argues that the Court's view and mine will prevent a plaintiff—unable to demonstrate some degree of fault—from vindicating his reputation by securing a judgment that the publication was false. This argument overlooks the possible enactment of statutes, not requiring proof of fault, which provide for an action for retraction or for publication of a court's determination of falsity if the plaintiff is able to demonstrate that false statements have been published concerning his activities. Cf. Note, Vindication of the Reputation of a Public Official, 80 Harv. L. Rev. 1730, 1739-1747 (1967). Although it may be that questions could be raised concerning the constitutionality of such statutes, certainly nothing I have said today (and, as I read the Court's opinion, nothing said there) should be read to imply that a private plaintiff, unable to prove fault, must inevitably be denied the opportunity to secure a judgment upon the truth or falsity of statements published about him. Cf. Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., supra, at 47, and n. 15.
The following United States Courts of Appeals have adopted the plurality opinion in Rosenbloom: Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Co., 484 F.2d 150 (CA6 1973), cert. pending, No. 73-5520 (article concerning family members of the victim of a highly publicized bridge disaster not actionable absent proof of actual malice); Porter v. Guam Publications, Inc., 475 F.2d 744, 745 (CA9 1973) (article concerning citizen's arrest for theft of a cash box considered an event of general or public interest); Cervantes v. Time, Inc., 464 F.2d 986, 991 (CA8 1972) (article concerning mayor and alleged organized crime connections conceded to be a matter of public or general concern); Firestone v. Time, Inc., 460 F.2d 712 (CA5 1972) (magazine article concerning prominent citizen's use of detectives and electronic surveillance in connection with a divorce); Davis v. National Broadcasting Co., 447 F.2d 981 (CA5 1971), aff'g 320 F.Supp. 1070 (ED La. 1970) (television report about a person caught up in the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy considered a matter of public interest). However, at least one Court of Appeals, faced with an appeal from summary judgment in favor of a publisher in a diversity libel suit brought by a Philadelphia retailer, has expressed "discomfort in accepting the Rosenbloom plurality opinion as a definitive statement of the appropriate law . . . ." Gordon v. Random House, Inc., 486 F.2d 1356, 1359 (CA3 1973).
As previously discussed in n. 2, supra, the latest proposed draft of Restatement (Second) of Torts substantially reflects the views of the Rosenbloom plurality. It also anticipates "that the Supreme Court will hold that strict liability for defamation is inconsistent with the free-speech provision of the First Amendment . . . ," Restatement (Second) of Torts § 569, p. 59 (Tent. Draft No. 20, Apr. 25, 1974), as well as the demise of pre-Rosenbloom damages rules. See id., § 621, pp. 285-288.
"First, the Framers initiated a political revolution whose development is still in process throughout the world. Second, like most revolutionaries, the Framers could not foresee the specific issues which would arise as their `novel idea' exercised its domination over the governing activities of a rapidly developing nation in a rapidly and fundamentally changing world. In that sense, the Framers did not know what they were doing. And in the same sense, it is still true that, after two centuries of experience, we do not know what they were doing, or what we ourselves are now doing.
"In a more abstract and more significant sense, however, both they and we have been aware that the adoption of the principle of self-government by `The People' of this nation set loose upon us and upon the world at large an idea which is still transforming men's conceptions of what they are and how they may best be governed."
"If by the Liberty of the Press were understood merely the Liberty of discussing the Propriety of Public Measures and political opinions, let us have as much of it as you please: But if it means the Liberty of affronting, calumniating, and defaming one another, I, for my part, own myself willing to part with my Share of it when our Legislators shall please so to alter the Law, and shall cheerfully consent to exchange my Liberty of Abusing others for the Privilege of not being abus'd myself." 10 B. Franklin, Writings 38 (Smyth ed. 1907).
The prevailing common-law libel rules in this country have remained in England and the Commonwealth nations. Pedrick, Freedom of the Press and the Law of Libel: The Modern Revised Translation, 49 Cornell L. Q. 581, 583-584 (1964). After many years of reviewing the English law of defamation, the Porter Committee concluded that "though the law as to defamation requires some modification, the basic principles upon which it is founded are not amiss." Report of the Committee on the Law of Defamation, Cmd. No. 7536, ¶ 222, p. 48 (1948).
"Sixty years ago, 2,442 newspapers were published daily nationwide, and 689 cities had competing dailies. Today, in only 42 of the cities served by one of the 1,748 American daily papers is there a competing newspaper under separate ownership. Total daily circulation has passed 62 million copies, but over 40 percent of this circulation is controlled by only 25 ownership groups.
"Newspaper owners have profited greatly from the consolidation of the journalism industry. Several of them report yearly profits in the tens of millions of dollars, with after tax profits ranging from seven to 14 percent of gross revenues. Unfortunately, the owners have made their profits at the expense of the public interest in free expression. As the broad base of newspaper ownership narrows, the variation of facts and opinions received by the public from antagonistic sources is increasingly limited. Newspaper publication is indeed a leading American industry. Through its evolution in this direction, the press has come to be dominated by a select group whose prime interest is economic.
"The effect of consolidation within the newspaper industry is magnified by the degree of intermedia ownership. Sixty-eight cities have a radio station owned by the only local daily newspaper, and 160 television stations have newspaper affiliations. In 11 cities diversity of ownership is completely lacking with the only television station and newspaper under the same control." Id., at 892-893 (footnotes omitted).
See also Congress, FCC Consider Newspaper Control of Local TV, 32 Cong. Q. 659-663 (1974).
"Suffice it to say that actual injury is not limited to out-of-pocket loss. Indeed, the more customary types of actual harm inflicted by defamatory falsehood include impairment of reputation and standing in the community, personal humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering." Ante, at 350.
It should be pointed out that under the prevailing law, where the defamation is not actionable per se and proof of "special damage" is required, a showing of actual injury to reputation is insufficient; but if pecuniary loss is shown, general reputation damages are recoverable. The Court changes the latter, but not the former, rule. Also under present law, pain and suffering, although shown, do not warrant damages in any defamation action unless the plaintiff is otherwise entitled to at least nominal damages. By imposing a more difficult standard of liability and requiring proof of actual damage to reputation, recovery for pain and suffering, though real, becomes a much more remote possibility.
"A great many forces in our society operate to determine the extent to which men are free in fact to express their ideas. Whether there is a privilege for good faith defamatory misstatements on matters of public concern or whether there is strict liability for such statements may not greatly affect the course of public discussion. How different has life been in those states which heretofore followed the majority rule imposing strict liability for misstatements of fact defaming public figures from life in the minority states where the good faith privilege held sway?"
See also T. Emerson, The System of Freedom of Expression 519 (1970) (footnote omitted): "[O]n the whole the role of libel law in the system of freedom of expression has been relatively minor and essentially erratic."
We must, therefore, assume that the hapless ordinary citizen libeled by the press (a) may not enjoin in advance of publication a story about him, regardless of how libelous it may be, Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U.S. 697 (1931); (b) may not compel the newspaper to print his reply; and (c) may not force the newspaper to print a retraction, because a judicially compelled retraction, like a "remedy such as an enforceable right of access," entails "governmental coercion" as to content, which "at once brings about a confrontation with the express provisions of the First Amendment and the judicial gloss on that Amendment developed over the years." Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, ante, at 254; but cf. this case, ante, at 368 n. 3 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting).
My Brother BRENNAN also suggests that there may constitutionally be room for "the possible enactment of statutes, not requiring proof of fault, which provide . . . for publication of a court's determination of falsity if the plaintiff is able to demonstrate that false statements have been published concerning his activities." Ibid. The Court, however, does not even consider this less drastic alternative to its new "some fault" libel standards.