Defaming A Public Figure

(File photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

(File photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - How do you defame a public figure? Not easily.

The First Lady of France, Valerie Truweiler, just withdrew a lawsuit she’d filed against writers who had said that she was the mistress of two married politicians at the same time. When you think that the US press went crazy when Michelle Obama got bangs, you realize that we may be tamer than we think.

Perhaps the surprising part of the article about France’s first lady wasn’t that it was written – but that Ms. Truweiler could not prove that she was the victim of defamation. That is one thing that public figures in the US do have in common with their European counterparts. It is not impossible but close to it for a public figure in the US to prove defamation.

A private individual has to show that someone made a false statement of fact (not opinion) that harmed her reputation. But in addition to proving that, a public figure – a movie star, politician, or person who has sought the limelight – has to prove that the false statement was made with actual malice – that the person who made the statement knew it wasn’t true or didn’t care if it was true or false.

So you can say what you will about Michelle Obama’s bangs, she’d have a lot of trouble proving you defamed her. Although I like them.

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