SPEZIALE, C. J.
The plaintiff, William E. Strada, Jr., brought this libel action because of an allegedly libelous newspaper article published by the defendants.
In 1970, the plaintiff was elected to the state Senate for the 27th Senatorial District. The plaintiff was reelected by substantial margins of votes for three consecutive terms and during the last two terms of office he was deputy majority leader of the state Senate. In 1978, the plaintiff was defeated in his bid for a fifth term of office. On October 31, 1978, seven days before that election, the allegedly libelous article that is the subject of this action appeared in a Stamford newspaper, The Advocate.
The plaintiff has appealed from this judgment claiming error: (1) in the trial court's granting of summary judgment when there were genuine disputes as to material facts relating to the falsity and malicious intent of statements made in the article; and (2) in the trial court's holding that "there can be no libel by innuendo if the challenged communication is true and concerns public officers and public affairs even though a false implication may reasonably be drawn by the public."
Before a party will be held liable for libel, there must be an unprivileged publication of a false and defamatory statement. Letter Carriers v. Austin, 418 U.S. 264, 284, 94 S.Ct. 2770, 41 L. Ed. 2d 745 (1974). Truth is an absolute defense to an allegation of libel. Goodrich v. Waterbury Republican-American, Inc., 188 Conn. 107, 112, 448 A.2d 1317 (1982). The plaintiff has alleged that certain passages in the article are false or give rise to false innuendo. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that the statements in the article were substantially true, privileged opinion, and privileged statements concerning a public official and public events so that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact."
Summary judgment is a method of resolving litigation when "the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
In support of its motion for summary judgment the defendants submitted to the trial court the deposition testimony of the plaintiff and other persons. The affidavits, depositions, and exhibits submitted by both parties showed that the statements of fact and quotations in the article were true or substantially true.
The first half of the article dealt with the application of attorney James Guarnieri for the job of assistant prosecutor. See Appendix. The article states that the plaintiff, in an "attempt" to secure the job for Guarnieri, "first" proposed Guarnieri's name and asked a local judge to "intervene" on Guarnieri's behalf as a "favor" to the plaintiff. The plaintiff challenges the truth of those statements. Our examination of the record, and particularly the plaintiff's own deposition, shows that the article is substantially true. "`Facts do not cease to be facts because they are mixed with the fair and expectant comment of the story teller, who adds to the recital a little touch by his piquant pen.' Briarcliff Lodge Hotel, Inc. v. Citizen-Sentinel Publishers, Inc., 260 N.Y. 106, 118-19, 183 N.E. 193 (1932);
The plaintiff testified in his deposition that he did meet with a local judge who the plaintiff knew would be involved in the selection process and did ask whether that judge could support Guarnieri for the position of Stamford assistant prosecutor. The plaintiff stated that he had the intention of assisting Guarnieri. Although Guarnieri had submitted his application prior to the plaintiff's contact with the local judge, the local judge first heard Guarnieri's name from the plaintiff. In fact, the plaintiff did not even know at the time he met with the local judge whether Guarnieri had formally applied for the position. The trial court did not err in finding that it was substantially true that the plaintiff "first" proposed Guarnieri's name.
The plaintiff contends that he did not ask the local judge "to intervene on behalf of Guarnieri." The plaintiff was present to assist Guarnieri if he could and when the local judge offered to contact the chief prosecutor the plaintiff agreed. It would be absurd not to understand that exchange as the plaintiff seeking support for Guarnieri and the local judge calling the chief prosecutor as a "favor" to the plaintiff, as the defendants stated. The trial court was correct in finding that the report of the events concerning the plaintiff's meeting with the local judge was substantially true.
The plaintiff also contends that certain statements of fact and quotations relating to events subsequent to his discussion with the local judge are false. On the basis of the evidence submitted by both parties, the trial court did not err in finding that the defendants' description
The remainder of the article concerned the plaintiff's relationship with reputed criminals, their businesses, or associates. The factual basis of the remainder of the
"[A]ny `deviations from or embellishments upon' the information obtained from the primary sources relied upon were minuscule and can be attributed to the leeway afforded an author who attempts to recount and popularize an ... event." Meeropol v. Nizer, 381 F.Supp. 29, 35 (S.D. N.Y. 1974), aff'd 560 F.2d 1061 (2d Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1013, 98 S.Ct. 727, 54 L. Ed. 2d 756 (1978). The author's job is not simply to copy statements verbatim, "but to interpret and
In this article comprising in excess of 1000 words, the one factual error is contained in the following excerpt: "... Strada and Fusaro have reportedly taken vacation trips with DePoli or been on trips arranged by DePoli associates, one of which attracted an FBI investigation.
"On this occasion, Sen. Strada and a number of city officials took a trip to Las Vegas and then to New Orleans for the Superbowl. The trip ... was investigated by the FBI...."
The undisputed evidence shows, and the defendants concede, that the plaintiff never "took a trip to Las Vegas and then to New Orleans for the Superbowl." The sting of this excerpt, however, does not arise from the trip location or purpose, but rather from the fact that the plaintiff had taken a trip in some way connected with DePoli
The record substantiates the factual bases for the defendants' article and the trial court did not err in concluding that each claimed falsehood of fact or quotation was either true or substantially true.
The plaintiff's next claim of error goes to "numerous stylistic and journalistic innuendos and inferences ... which reflected adversely on the reputation of the Plaintiff." We have already concluded that the trial court was correct in its finding that the article was composed of true or substantially true statements. The trial court did not decide whether a reasonable reader might draw a false inference from certain statements as alleged by the plaintiff. Rather, the trial court held that "there can be no libel by innuendo if the challenged communication is true and concerns public officers and public affairs even though a false implication may reasonably be drawn by the public."
Innuendo or inference may result merely from the tone or "slant" of an article, or innuendo or inference may also result from the failure to present the whole picture. In Memphis Publishing Co. v. Nichols, 569 S.W.2d 412 (Tenn. 1978), a newspaper article correctly stated that the plaintiff had been shot when she had been found with another woman's husband. The article neglected to report, however, the additional fact that the plaintiff and the other woman's husband were at a social gathering, the several members of which
The goal of nurturing a free and active press in the political arena mandates denial of recovery by a public figure where the allegation of defamation "depends fundamentally on an interpretation of various aspects of the broadcast, not on anything directly said in it." Pierce v. Capital Cities Communications, Inc., 576 F.2d 495, 500 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 861, 99 S.Ct. 181, 58 L. Ed. 2d 170 (1978).
The cases in other jurisdictions that have considered this issue support this view. Recovery was denied in Loeb v. New Times Communications Corporation, 497 F.Supp. 85 (S.D.N.Y. 1980), where the court specifically found that "[t]he authors' clear intent was to portray an overwhelmingly negative picture of Loeb by presenting purported examples of his ridiculous idiosyncracies
In Mihalik v. Duprey, 11 Mass. App. 602, 417 N.E.2d 1238 (1981), each individual statement published in a "riddle" about a public figure was true. The court held that recovery could not be had "merely because in the aggregate they have an insinuating overtone." Id.
In a Louisiana case the public official plaintiff admitted "there was nothing factually incorrect in the article. However, `the way people looked at the thing' he was accused of misusing state funds for personal benefit." Schaefer v. Lynch, 406 So.2d 185, 188 (La. 1981). The court there held that "truthful statements which carry a defamatory implication can be actionable. However, that is only true in the case of private citizens and private affairs. Even false statements about public officials are constitutionally protected unless known to be false or printed with a reckless disregard for the truth. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, [376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1964)]. It surely follows that all truthful statements are also constitutionally protected. Even though a false implication may be drawn by the public, there is no redress for its servant. Where public officers and public affairs are concerned, there can be no libel by innuendo."
"The Court is aware that any article replete with snide innuendos can be hurtful to a subject, and indeed may damage him in his business reputation. But if he is a public figure, then he must bear the risk of such publicity as the price he pays for conducting activities or business in the public arena." Reliance Ins. Co. v. Barron's, 442 F.Supp. 1341, 1352 (S.D.N.Y. 1977). "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 or government is not strictly limited to the formal discharge of official duties." Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 344, 94 S.Ct. 2997, 41 L. Ed. 2d 789 (1974); see Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, 77, 85 S.Ct. 209, 13 L. Ed. 2d 125 (1964). The defendants have no obligation to place the plaintiff in the most favorable light. Rinsley v.
When any inference or innuendo does not arise from the omission of material facts, but rather from the editorial choice of layout, the plaintiff may not recover for libel by innuendo. The media would be unduly burdened if, in addition to reporting facts about public officers and public affairs correctly, it had to be vigilant for any possibly defamatory implication arising from the report of those true facts. "[T]he pall of fear and timidity imposed upon those who would give voice to public criticism is an atmosphere in which the First Amendment freedoms cannot survive." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, 278; see Washington Post Co. v. Keogh, 365 F.2d 965, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1966).
The result we reach in this case, which undeniably may have a harsh impact on those persons who are public figures, is a corollary to the privilege accorded false statements concerning public officials published without malice. Just as the goal of a free and active press protects false statements of fact regarding public figures published without malice, so too must the law protect truthful facts that may give rise to false innuendo or inference. "`It is of the utmost consequence that the people should discuss the character and qualifications of candidates for their suffrages. The importance to the state and to society of such discussions is so vast, and the advantages derived are so great, that they more than counterbalance the inconvenience of [candidates] whose conduct may be involved, and occasional injury to the reputations of individuals must yield to the public welfare, although at times such injury may be great.'" New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, 281, quoting Coleman v. MacLennan, 78 Kan. 711, 724, 98 P. 281 (1908).
There is no error.
In this opinion the other judges concurred.
The alleged libelous article was printed in the Stamford Advocate newspaper on October 31, 1978:
"Strada's court post role revealed
by Anthony R. Dolan
Advocate Staff Reporter
"State Sen. William E. Strada Jr.'s, D-27th, attempt to win a prosecutor's job for a Stamford attorney failed after a local prosecutor and police official objected to the lawyer's close relationship with an important organized crime figure here, an Advocate investigation shows.
"According to sources close to the controversy over the 1976 appointment, the possible naming of the local lawyer, James Guarnieri, now deceased, to an assistant prosecutor's post caused consternation among police and prosecutors because of Guarnieri's close ties to John `Stoogie' DePoli—a well known organized crime figure here. Friendly with Strada and the senator's law partner, John Fusaro, DePoli is believed by state and federal law enforcement sources to run Stamford's largest gambling syndicate and is listed in numerous law enforcements reports as an associate of the Gambino crime family of New York.
"In an off-the-record conversation Monday, Sen. Strada discussed the contents of this story and said he would prepare a statement for release today. This
"`Believe me, if the article is printed, there will be plenty of comment.' Strada added.
"The senator also said he could not write a response to an article he had not yet seen. When asked if he would like a fully detailed description of the contents of the story, Strada said this would not influence his decision to refrain from commenting at the present time.
"At the time of the proposed Guarnieri appointment, the police officers and prosecutors were concerned that a close personal friend and counsel to the city's most important gambling boss would be placed, through political influence-peddling, into a sensitive judicial post—one with plea bargaining powers as well as access to search warrant information.
"Described by associates as `deeply concerned' about the matter, Martin L. Nigro, chief prosecutor in Stamford at the time of the proposed appointment, wrote a letter to the chief administrative judge of the Common Pleas Court listing police objections to the appointment as well as his own misgivings, according to reliable sources.
"Nigro reportedly decided to write the letter shortly after one of his assistants was approached by a well-known gambler who boasted that the appointment of the attorney had been arranged.
"The local police official, Lt. George Mayer, head of the Stamford Police Department's gambling and narcotics squad, was a prime mover in assembling the case against Guarnieri and complained directly to Chief State's Attorney Joseph Gormley about the proposed appointment.
"Shortly after the call, Nigro learned from Mayer that Guarnieri was frequently observed by local police at meetings between DePoli and some of DePoli's subordinates who run illegal gambling outlets throughout the city, according to police sources.
"DePoli is known to be under investigation by state and federal law enforcement agencies. In addition to four gambling arrests as well as one recent arrest on fraud charges, DePoli is frequently identified as an important local mob figure in federal and state organized crime reports to which The Advocate has obtained access.
"The effort to appoint Guarnieri failed after Gormley, who has an informal veto power in such appointments, was approached in Bridgeport by Lt. Mayer with the information about Guarnieri's relationship with DePoli. Prosecutor Nigro also wrote his letter to Judge Roman Lexton, chief administrative judge of the Common Pleas Court, in which Nigro outlined police objections as well as his own concern about the fragile health of Guarnieri who suffered from a heart condition.
"The attempt by Sen. Strada to have Guarnieri appointed is one of several incidents, according to federal and state law enforcement sources, in which the senator and Fusaro have allegedly tried to influence state or federal agencies on behalf of businesses or close associates of reputed organized crime figures. Most of these attempts have apparently sprung from social and
"These relationships have raised questions in the minds of law enforcement officials who doubt the propriety of such associations between a major state official and the organized crime figures—their associates or their businesses.
"In addition to the controversy over the prosecutor's appointment, these questions stem from the Strada & Fusaro law firm's representation of a trucking company —owned in part by a local racketeer—in a legal battle with a state agency and, in another case, the senator's appearance in a New Haven federal courtroom for purposes of `emotional support' at the sentencing hearing of a major racketeer prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice's Organized Crime Strike Force.
"Several sources with first-hand information of Sen. Strada's dealings with mob figures or their close associates agreed to talk to The Advocate following the Fusaro's indictment by a federal grand jury that heard evidence presented by the federal organized crime strike force in Rhode Island. Fusaro was found innocent last week in a Rhode Island trial on the charges.
"The indictment charged that Fusaro attempted to hide from IRS investigators a $25,000 payment to his law firm from a dog racing and jai lai promoter shortly after Strada introduced the bill that legalized those gaming activities in Connecticut. The government has not charged that Strada introduced the legislation as a direct result of payments to his law firm from the Rhode Island promoter.
"Among other incidents that law enforcement sources said disturbed them about the propriety of Strada and Fusaro's actions are:
"On this occasion, Sen. Strada and a number of city officials took a trip to Las Vegas and then to New Orleans for the Superbowl. The trip, which was investigated by the FBI, was arranged by a travel agency in Bridgeport which is used as a part-time office and run by close relatives of a racketeer who has been described by federal sources as a `made' or officially inducted member of the Gambino crime family and who frequently has been seen meeting with DePoli.
"It was also learned that federal investigators have questioned Strada and others about DiPoli's [sic] activities during at least one of the gambling junkets.
"In addition to the vacation trips, Fusaro became so familiar a figure at the Regency that an impromptu party was held for him on the night of his indictment.
"Strada, on Jan. 17, 1976, sat for more than twoand-a-half hours in a federal courtroom in New Haven at a sentencing hearing for Anthony Michael `Ginzo' Zezima, a local Stamford racketeer. Zezima was prosecuted by attorneys with the Northeast Organized Crime Strike Force after an FBI wiretap showed Zezima was running a major gambling operation here. Federal sources believe Zezima and DePoli had split the gambling action in Stamford, with Zezima maintaining ties with the Genovese crime family in New York City.
"Asked why a prominent state senator would spend a morning at the sentencing hearing of a well-known
"When this comment was published the senator reacted angrily, calling a reporter and arguing that his presence at the hearing was neither relevant nor newsworthy.
"Strada intervened in 1976 with a state agency on behalf of MST trucking company, a firm owned in part by the late Joseph Tamburri, a member of the Stamford underworld with a long criminal record. The MST firm, two of whose vice presidents (including Tamburri) were arrested and convicted in 1973 on charges of defrauding the City of Stamford, was charged by state Department of Environmental Protection investigators in 1975 with dumping ash on two North Stamford properties. The agency filed charges against the firm, alleging that it had engaged in serious, illegal health and environmental practices.
"A DEP source said, at the time, that Strada had called the DEP and, in a move to have the charges dropped, attempted to exert political presure [sic] on the agency. Sen. Strada has denied, however, that his law firm attempted to apply any political pressure but merely made a call to the DEP as MST's legal representative.
"A spokesman for the law firm also said, at the time, that he saw no conflict of interest in a state senator's law firm pleading for a third party against a state agency whose programs and budgets the legislature regulates and approves.
"When Strada attended Tamburri's funeral shortly after the racketeer was shotgunned to death in February of 1976, he also objected to a news story that mentioned his presence at the racketeer's funeral."
The plaintiff also contends that summary judgment was inappropriate because the defendants invoked a qualified evidentiary privilege not to identify sources relied upon in the article. Although the plaintiff is not challenging the right of a newspaper to claim a reporter's privilege not to identify confidential sources, the plaintiff argues that this qualified privilege cannot be invoked without the defendants' incurring some kind of penalty. The plaintiff claims that "the appropriate penalty should have been a denial of defendants' summary judgment motion." The plaintiff has cited no authority that supports this position.
The plaintiff has failed to show a need for those sources. The plaintiff's request for identity of sources was denied by the trial court, Henebry, J., on three different occasions upon a finding by the trial court that the plaintiff did not need the requested information. The plaintiff has not appealed from any of these rulings.
The plaintiff also argues that summary judgment is particularly inappropriate in libel actions. In Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111, 120 n.9, 99 S.Ct. 2675, 61 L. Ed. 2d 411 (1979), the United States Supreme Court cautioned against the use of summary judgment in determining actual malice, which involves a state of mind. Because in the present case the trial court found that the article was either true or substantially true, it had no occasion to inquire into the defendants' state of mind. Thus, "the Supreme Court's admonition against precipitous summary judgments ... is inapplicable." Rinsley v. Brandt, 6 Med. L. Rptr. 1222, 1232 (D. Kan. 1980), aff'd, 700 F.2d 1304 (10th Cir. 1983); see Simonson v. United Press International, Inc., 654 F.2d 478, 481 (7th Cir. 1981).
"Aware that Mayer had a `hangup' about DePoli, the Chief Prosecutor directed him to reexamine his suspicions about Guarnieri. Mayer returned later stating that Guarnieri was often seen with known gamblers and reporting that there was a gambling office in the apartment house where Guarnieri lived. Accompanying Mayer during this second report to the Chief Prosecutor was a state police officer who corroborated Mayer's allegations. The Chief Prosecutor accepted the information, but did not view it at that time as verifiable. Meanwhile, an assistant prosecutor also reported to the Chief Prosecutor that `Hatch' Pete, a reputed gambler, had told him that Guarnieri would be appointed assistant prosecutor.
"Relying on the information provided by Mayer, his assistant and perhaps the state police, the Chief Prosecutor sent a letter to [Deputy] State's Attorney John Mulcahy in which he summarized the objections to Guarnieri's appointment concluding that he should not be recommended for the position. His objections were Guarnieri's connection with DePoli; his alleged association with gambling; Mayer's strong opposition; the `Hatch' Pete incident; and Guarnieri's health. Mulcahy forwarded the Chief Prosecutor's letter to Judge Lexton, Chief Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Accompanying that letter was Mulcahy's own letter which expressed his and Chief State's Attorney Gormley's objections to Guarnieri's appointment similar to those raised by the Chief Prosecutor. Mulcahy's letter further stated that it was his understanding that Judge Lexton would discuss those objections with the resident judges making the appointment. Mulcahy's official letter to the resident judges, however, only referred to Guarnieri's medical problems. Judge Lexton suggested this procedure wishing to be considerate of Guarnieri because the official letter would be a public document. Floran J. Bolan was ultimately appointed assistant prosecutor."
Our review of the record indicates that the trial court was correct in concluding, contrary to the plaintiff's contentions, that there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact as to the events subsequent to the meeting with the local judge.
Another case heavily relied upon by the plaintiff; Cianci v. New Times Publishing, 639 F.2d 54 (2d Cir. 1980); holds only that specific accusations of criminal conduct (in that case, rape and obstruction of justice) are not protected as statements of opinion nor protected by the privilege of neutral reportage or the common law privilege of fair report. Because the truth of the article remained an issue in that case, the court never reached the question of whether false innuendo from true facts would be actionable.