Citation. 485 U.S. 46, 108 S. Ct. 876, 99 L. Ed. 2d 41, 1988 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.
A magazine published a sexual parody, which poked fun at a well- known evangelist and attacked his morals.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Public figures can recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress if they can show false statement of fact and actual malice.
Hustler Magazine (Petitioner) ran a parody advertisement that featured Falwell (Respondent) talking about his “first time.” Petitioner drafted an alleged interview in which Respondent admits to drunken incestuous encounters with his mother in an outhouse. The ad portrays Respondent as a hypocrite and a drunk. At the bottom of the advertisement page is a statement, “ad parody – not to be taken seriously.” Respondent sued for libel, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury awarded Respondent damages.
Can a public figure recover damages for emotional harm caused by a parody?
No. The New York Times standard for public figure defamation must be applied in this situation.
Parody is a form of communication that purposefully pokes fun. It does not express a malicious falsehood. Instead, it takes a component of one’s character and exaggerates it to the point of distortion. This type of speech is protected.