ERIC Number: ED284222
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1987-Aug
Reference Count: 0
The Dangerous Exception to Protection for Opinion.
Trager, Robert; Chamberlin, Bill F.
Since the 1974 Supreme Court dicta in "Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc.," many courts have held that statement of opinion is constitutionally protected. However, statements that appear to be opinion based on undisclosed facts or knowledge not generally known to the public can be an exception. For instance, courts have protected specific unfavorable restaurant and book reviews, but refused to protect as opinion a statement by the owner of a baseball team, reported in a newspaper, that the club's former general manager was a "despicable human being." This presents a problem for the media, which may be impeded in debating issues of public concern for fear that the opinions they publish, which had formerly been protected under fair comment, may not be qualified for legal protection. The Restatement of Torts in 1977 attempted to distinguish between "pure" and "mixed" opinions, and a later torts hornbook posited "deductive,""evaluative," and "informational" opinions. Courts have also taken the possibility of intended malice and "rhetorical hyperbole" into account. To protect the right to debate issues of public concern, courts should consider merging the ideas of Judge Robinson's dissent in "Ollman v. Evans" and the Supreme Court's opinion in "Philadelphia Newspapers v. Hepps," and protect any comments, without consideration of whether they are fact or opinion, that cannot be proven false. (Four pages of footnotes are included.) (JC)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Gertz v Robert Welch Inc; Libel
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (70th, San Antonio, TX, August 1-4, 1987).