First Amendment Right, or Libel?

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

I just received an e-mail stating some concern that what I said about Shannon Sullivan could earn me a lawsuit. The sender of the e-mail (I’ll keep their identity to myself) said, “Its [sic] great to express your opinion but I dont [sic] think it is worth getting in trouble over.”

I disagree. I think the right to state one’s opinion is worth any fight.

Except for fighting words (which are difficult to define) and statements that are libelous or slanderous, pretty much anything you say is protected under the First Amendment.

Libel and slander are similar, but not exactly the same. Libel is defined as, “defamation of a person by written or representational means,” whereas slander is, “a false and defamatory oral statement about a person.” An umbrella term for both is “defamation.”

As per New York Times vs. Sullivan (lol), “the court held that where a public figure was defamed, the plaintiff had to prove not just that an untruthful statement was made, but also that it was made with actual malice – that is, that it was made knowing it to be false or with reckless disregard for the truth.” [SOURCE]

Is my statement false? How do you prove an opinion to be true or false? The short answer is that you can’t. In fact, if a “person makes a statement of opinion rather than a statement of fact, defamation claims usually cannot be brought because opinions are inherently not falsifiable.” [SOURCE]

If she did try to sue me, she wouldn’t have much of a case.

1) It’s an opinion, not a fact. I’ll concede that, in the context of the rest of the post, it could appear as though I’m stating a fact. I am not. I am stating my opinion and I refuse to shy away from what I said.

2) In order to actually sue me, she would have to prove both malicious intent as well as actual damages. Considering very few people read my blog (let’s call a spade a spade, right?) and most of the people who do read my blog don’t live in Spokane, will never meet Sullivan, or already agree with me, she’d be hard-pressed to prove any damages.

I also want to point out that when I originally wrote the statement, I deleted it, then chose to add it back in. I decided to do this because, and I cannot stress this enough, it is my opinion of her and I felt it helped to express my frustration with her actions and the actions of the citizens of Spokane. So the statement is not a careless assault on her character, but one that I carefully considered before I posted it.

At best, she could argue that “white-trash bitch” are fighting words, and beat me up, but she’d have to do it herself, and when I sue her for assault, she’d have to prove that they really are fighting words.

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  1. I honestly don’t think that statement is libelious. I see people called names in news articles all the time. If you were to say something like, “I saw so-and-so having sex with a gay prostitute” and that statement were false…that’d be a problem.

    I’m not a lawyer, obviously…but it just doesn’t FEEL like libel. 🙂

  2. Yeah, no worries mate. Stating an opinion is not slander or libel. Example, new Speaker of the House Pelosi has called Bush “dangerous.” If a politician can state her opinion about the president, and not get sued, then no one should care about you calling someone a bitch.

    Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. The stupid author of the email should realize that (oops, maybe now I’ll get sued!).

  3. My First Cease and Desist

    I just got my first cease and desist order today. I think it’s kind of like losing your virginity, but for bloggers. So who thinks they can bully me into silence? None other than Just so that we can…

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