Masson v. New Yorker Magazine

501 U.S. 496, 111 S. Ct. 2419 (1991)



The U.S. Const. amend. I, limits California's libel law in various respects. When the plaintiff is a public figure, he cannot recover unless he proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant published the defamatory statement with actual malice, meaning with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.


Petitioner Masson, a psychoanalyst, became disillusioned with Freudian psychology while serving as projects director of the Sigmund Freud Archives, and was fired after advancing his own theories. Thereafter, respondent Malcolm, an author and contributor to respondent New Yorker Magazine, taped several interviews with Masson and wrote a lengthy article on his relationship with the archives. One of Malcolm's narrative devices consists of enclosing lengthy passages attributed to Masson in quotation marks. Masson allegedly expressed alarm about several errors in those passages before the article was published. After its publication, and with knowledge of Masson's allegations that it contained defamatory material, respondent Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., published the work as a book, which portrayed Masson in a most unflattering light. He brought an action for libel under California law in the Federal District Court, concentrating on passages alleged to be defamatory, six of which are before this Court. In each instance, the quoted statement did not appear in the taped interviews. The parties disputed whether there were additional untaped interviews, the notes from which Malcolm allegedly transcribed. The court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment. It concluded that the alleged inaccuracies were substantially true or were rational interpretations of ambiguous conversations, and therefore did not raise a jury question of actual malice, which is required when libel is alleged by a public figure. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Did Masson satisfy the malice prong of the test for defamation of a public figure, or libel?




The Court held that Masson had satisfied the malice prong of the test for defamation of a public figure, or libel.

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