Visitor Question

Recourse for celebrities and public figures (politicians)?

Submitted By: Bill (S.F. Bay Area, U.S.A.)

Editorials or public comments were made to an audience defaming a celebrity or public figure (which in the case in interest is a politician).

What defense can she/he assert when they claim the accusations were false or misleading, and have harmed them by making their chances of being hired for a film/musical/event or public office much less than before the statements were made/printed? Is there any legal recourse here? Thank you.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.


Dear Bill,

In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of New York Times vs. Sullivan held that public discussion about public figures should be

“…uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” The decision involved a politician who sued the New York Times newspaper for defamation.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed statements made about him by a private citizen were false, and as a result the politician was defamed.

The court held that the First Amendment encouraged private citizens to speak freely about public figures, especially politicians, without fear of persecution. As a result, discussions, statements, and opinions of private citizens made about politicians should be permitted.

However the test is not absolute. To be entitled to compensation for defamation a public figure must be able to prove defamatory statements were made by a citizen with “actual malice.”

For purposes of defamation of a public figure, “actual malice” is defined as a private citizen knowing absolutely the statements he or she were making about the public figure were false, and in spite of that knowledge the citizen made those remarks with actual malice.

Actual malice is further defined as a citizen making statements about a public figure with reckless disregard for whether the statements were false or not.

In the facts you present, unless there is proof of actual malice, the politician likely does not have a viable defamation claim.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: December 21, 2014

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