Respondent, a nationally known minister and commentator on politics and public affairs, filed a diversity action in Federal District Court against petitioners, a nationally circulated magazine and its publisher, to recover damages for, inter alia, libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from the publication of an advertisement "parody" which, among other things, portrayed respondent as having engaged in a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse. The jury found against respondent on the libel claim, specifically finding that the parody could not "reasonably be understood as describing actual facts. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioners' contention that the "actual malice" standard of New York Times Co. Sullivan, U. Rejecting as irrelevant the contention that, because the jury found that the parody did not describe actual facts, the ad was an opinion protected by the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, the court ruled that the issue was whether the ad's publication was sufficiently outrageous to constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress. Held: In order to protect the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern, the First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit public figures and public officials from recovering damages for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of the publication of a caricature such as the ad parody at issue without showing in addition that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with "actual malice," i. The State's interest in protecting public figures from emotional distress is not sufficient to deny First Amendment protection to speech that is patently offensive and is intended to inflict emotional injury when that speech could not reasonably have been interpreted as stating actual facts about the public figure involved. Here, respondent is clearly a "public figure" for First Amendment purposes, and the lower courts' finding that the ad parody was not reasonably believable must be accepted.
Presented by the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies
The Supreme Court took up an important free- speech battle between the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the sex magazine Hustler today in the liveliest argument the Court has heard in recent memory. Falwell for his ''emotional distress'' at Hustler's publication of a savage parody describing him and his mother as engaged in a drunken, incestuous encounter in an outhouse. The packed courtroom erupted in laughter - though not at the parody -at several points in the minute argument between Norman Roy Grutman of New York, for Mr. Falwell, and Alan L. Isaacman of Beverly Hills, Calif. Even Chief Justice William H.
The Court applied the actual malice standard set out in New York Times v. Sullivan, which requires that a false statement must be published with knowledge of or reckless disregard for the truth. It found the parody to be a statement of opinion, protected by the First Amendment. The November issue of Hustler magazine featured a parody of an advertisement for Campari liquor. The layout used a caricature of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a well-known minister and conservative political activist, which was titled "Jerry Falwell talks about his first time," a take-off on the Campari ad campaign. The text of the advertisement implied that Falwell's first sexual experience was a drunken rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse.
The U. Jerry Falwell for his emotional distress at having been parodied in Hustler, a pornographic magazine. In doing so, it reversed both a jury award against Flynt and a ruling by the U. Although Hustler's parody was judged to be in poor taste, the court nevertheless held that it fell within the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech and the press.