Hustler (a dirty magazine)
printed an over-the-top parody disparaging Falwell (a crusading
televangelist), and suggesting that he was an immoral drunk.
The parody explicitly said
at the bottom "ad parody - not to be taken seriously."
Falwell sued, claiming libel,
invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Trial Court found
partially for Falwell and awarded $150k in damages. Hustler appealed.
On the libel claim, the
Trial Court found that the parody was so outlandish that it was obviously
not meant to be taken seriously.
However, the Trial Court did
find for Falwell with regards to the intentional infliction of emotional
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and overturned the damage award.
The US Supreme Court found
that public officials and public figures may not recover for the tort of
intentional infliction of emotional distress without additionally showing
that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made
with actual malice.
Actual malice means with knowledge that the statements are
false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.
argued that a State's interest in protecting their citizens from
emotional distress was enough of a compelling government interest to infringe on the 1st Amendment
right of free speech.
The Court found that this
might be true for a private figure,
However, the Court found
that for a public figure, the balance tipped towards freedom of
speech because political cartoonists
and satirists are an important part of the public discourse and there
would be a chilling effect on them if they were subject to large damage