What is Libel?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, libel is, “The act of publishing a false statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone”. This can be any form of publication or broadcast, like a newspaper, on the radio, television or on the Internet. Many people can associate this with the tabloids. There are many magazines and Internet articles about a celebrity abused a dog, by looking a a picture a paparazzi had taken. We may not know if this is really true, because people just like to make up stories about someone famous to get attention.

Libel is considered, “a civil wrong and can be the basis of a lawsuit”. Many celebrities that have been affected by a false accusation, have the right to bring the source to court. For example, Cameron Diaz sued The Sun newspaper claiming that she was having an affair with Shane Nickerson while she was still in a relationship with Justin Timberlake. At this time Nickerson was married, making the so called affair even juicier. Diaz did win the lawsuit against the newspaper, and late the paper had confessed “Any suggestion of a romantic involvement is entirely untrue and without any substance whatsoever”.

Being the History major I am, when I first looked to find the official definition, I thought of mudslinging. Mudslinging is, “the use of insults and accusations, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent”. It is mostly used during elections, when candidates are fighting against each other for that top spot. With this year’s election going to be a memorable one, it has been a long year where candidates of the same party had been going back and forth, to pose their opponent as a weak link, and not capable. Mudslinging also known as slander. Libel and slander are forms of defamation. Defamation is, “a common law tort, governed by state law, in which an individual makes a ‘publication’… concerning the plaintiff that damages their reputation”.

For example in the 2012 Presidential Election, President Obama accused Mitt Romney of, “tying the family dog on the roof of the care on a family trip, causing the death of a woman who was diagnosed with cancer”. He later then told the press that Romney was a felon. Yes some of these attacks can be exaggerated, but that is comparable to the tabloids in a magazine about a celerity abusing a dog.  So if slander and libel are both forms of defamation, then why couldn’t Romney take President Obama to court?

The difference comes from how the accusation was published. Mudslinging is mostly published through oral publication. Others are able to hear what has been said and can harm the subject’s reputation or character.In the case of libel, the plaintiff needs to prove how the statement is false. While slander the defendant doesn’t have to prove the statement if true, but the plaintiff needs to prove it wrong. President Obama could have said anything he wanted to hurt Romney, and not even have to prove it, but Romney on the other hand had to prove him and the accusations wrong. In that case, evidence for slander may be hard to find, because it could have disappeared. It is easier to prove an accusation of criminal offences when you can provide an updated criminal or lack of a criminal record.

So when you find yourself in a position of wanting to ruin someone, don’t do it at all, because even if you are accused of slander, you don’t want to get stuck with Donald Trump’s angry face. trump-screaming







One thought on “What is Libel?

  1. Hey, Patty. I enjoyed reading your post, and it reminded me of something my cousin (who for whatever reason has a law degree but does not practice law as a lawyer) explained to me regarding libel and slander when I asked her. A person’s opinion cannot be labeled as defamatory. So if I qualify a statement and say that I think you cheated on your midterm, I haven’t committed slander because it’s my opinion, and an opinion cannot be defamatory. But just saying that I think you did it doesn’t change a statement of fact into an opinion right away. If I say it to friends or colleagues who trust me, then they are probably going to believe me and agree you cheated on your midterm. In the sense that you didn’t cheat on your midterm, I would have then committed slander against you. So complicated! You didn’t cheat on your midterm, did you?


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