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Dreibelbis Hadley Dreibelbis Honors CommLaw Dr. Lee 21 October 2013 Exam 2, Question 2 Dr.

Gene Green, a respected professor at Whatsamatter University, becomes the subject

of vicious campus rumors alleging improper conduct. These rumors were covered in the campus newspaper and led to severe consequences for the professor. In this case, I will outline the steps necessary to determine that Green would successfully win a lawsuit against the Caper for its publishing of these unverified rumors. In determining the burden of proof required for Green to successfully carry a defamation suit, I must first distinguish between a public official and a private citizen. A public official would include persons elected to public office and nonelected government employees who play major roles in the development of public policy.1 This distinction, established by the actual malice precedent in New York Times v. Sullivan, would require a public official to prove that the press acted in reckless disregard of the truth.2 Green, as a professor in the accounting department with no leadership role in the formation of university policy, would not be considered a public official. As he previously served in the White House Office of Management and Budget, he would serve as a public official only in discussing official business relating to this position. As the rumors failed to mention this position, Green would thusly be considered a private citizen when presenting his case.

Middleton, Kent R. and William E. Lee. The Law of Public Communication. (Pearson Inc. 2013), 122. 2 Middleton, Kent R. and William E. Lee. The Law of Public Communication. (Pearson Inc. 2013), 133.


A private figure would have to prove a much lower burden of proof in order to win his or her libel case. The burden of proof for a private citizen is considered to be negligence. This term would mean that Green would prove that the Caper did not exercise reasonable care in determining whether a story is true or false.3 In simpler terms, the standard of negligence is a sort of common sense expectation: when hearing the facts presented, did the writers at the newspaper act in a common sense and reasonable manner? Since Green has been determined to be a private figure, he must prove negligence. Failing to exercise reasonable care is blatantly evident in the Capers reporting. Writers at the Caper intentionally chose not to include additional sources that refuted the rumors of Greens drunken debauchery. The department head noted to the paper that no proof had substantiated these claims. Furthermore, another dean called the Caper to purport another theory that a jealous coworker might have created these rumors. Yet, these alternative perspectives were not included in the report. When not providing a fair and accurate representation of both sides presented, the Caper acted in negligence. Did Greens reputation suffer harm? Absolutely. Green lost membership in his local country club, thus socially ostracizing him from his circle of peers. He also lost a consulting arrangement, which resulted in a significant financial loss. Finally, he entered psychological counseling to counter the emotional distress brought on by the published rumors. These damages are clearly as result of the harm produced by the Caper. The paper quoted rumors that Green was a drunken pervert, which would undoubtedly negatively impact his career and personal life. The story published by the Caper does not contain protected opinion. While the rumors quoted by the paper are clearly the opinion of the sources, they are expressed as known facts

Middleton, Kent R. and William E. Lee. The Law of Public Communication. (Pearson Inc. 2013), 138.

Dreibelbis rather than rhetorical hyperbole. Asserting that Green is a pervert would be implying a crime of sexual assault or harassment, which would be directly harmful to his position as a university professor. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. sets the standard for potential libel in opinion statements. When Milkovich was called a liar in a journal column, the Court ruled that it implied he committed the crime of perjury.4 As a result, in making an implication of criminal action, an opinion statement can be proven to be defamatory.

In reporting these rumors, the Caper cannot claim the defense of qualified privilege. The sources used in the paper were unnamed and not qualified to be public officials reporting on official business. The paper claimed that it had equal privileges to that of covering a legislative committee investigation or a judicial hearing. These qualified privileges only apply when covering official government activities.5 Rumors of inappropriate personal behavior of a professor would not be considered in any capacity to be official and thus would not be covered under the reporters qualified privilege. After examining all of these nuances within the libel case presented by Green, it is clear that he would sue successfully. The plaintiff is required to prove six factors: defamation, identification, publication, fault, falsity and personal harm. Defamatory language labeling Green as a drunken pervert clearly identified him by name in the report published by the Caper. Through the private person standard of fault, the paper acted in a negligent and careless manner when publishing only one side of the story that they received. Reputable and credible coworkers of Green cast significant doubts on the truthfulness of the rumors, arguing instead that they were

Middleton, Kent R. and William E. Lee. The Law of Public Communication. (Pearson Inc. 2013), 151. 5 Middleton, Kent R. and William E. Lee. The Law of Public Communication. (Pearson Inc. 2013), 158.


a product of a jealous professor. Finally, the social and financial damage suffered by Green led to significant personal harm. This libel case could be labeled a no-brainer: Green sufficiently met each of the six crucial factors needed to win his lawsuit.