Brief Fact Summary.
Falwell, respondent, sought damages against the magazine for invasion of privacy, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress after the magazine that printed an interview alleging Falwell’s “first time” was with his mother and suggested that he was a hypocrite.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Even when a speaker or writer is motivated by hatred or ill-will his expression is protected by the First Amendment.
Freedoms of expression require breathing space.View Full Point of Law
Hustler Magazine ran a parody of an advertisement. The parody was modeled after actual ads that included interviews with various celebrities about their “first times.”Hustler chose Falwell, a nationally known minister and commentator on public affairs and printed an interview revealing his first time was with his mother. In small print at the bottom of the page, the ad contained the disclaimer. “Ad parody – not to be taken seriously.” The magazine also listed the ad as fiction.
May a public figure recover damages for emotional harm caused by the publication of an ad parody offensive to him and gross in the eyes of the most?
No, while a bad motive may be deemed controlling for purposes of tort liability, the First Amendment prohibits such a result in the area of public debate about public figures. The Court reasoned that if it were to rule otherwise, political cartoonists and satirists would be subjected to damages awards without any showing that their work falsely defamed its subject.
The art of the cartoonist is often not reasoned or even-handed, but slashing and one-sided. But political discourse would have been considerably poorer without cartoonists from the viewpoint of our history. While the respondent contends that the caricature in question is so outrageous as to distinguish it from other traditional cartoonists, it is difficult, if not impossible, to set any standard of whether a caricature is outrageous. Thus, public figures may not recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of publications such as the one at issue.