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Hustler Magazine v. Falwell

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

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Hustler Magazine v. Falwell

Citation. Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 108 S. Ct. 876, 99 L. Ed. 2d 41, 56 U.S.L.W. 4180, 14 Media L. Rep. 2281 (U.S. Feb. 24, 1988)
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Brief Fact Summary.

After Hustler Magazine and Larry Flynt (Petitioners) published an advertisement, depicting Jerry Falwell (Respondent) as having his “first time” in an outhouse with his month, the reverend brought suit based on invasion of privacy, libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When an advertisement parodying a public figure depicts facts which no reasonable person could take as true, that figure cannot prevail under a theory of emotional distress.


The November 1983 issue of Hustler Magazine featured a parody of an advertisement for Campari Liqueur that had the name and picture of Respondent, and was entitled “Jerry Falwell talks about his first time.” The parody was designed to mimic other Campari ads, which pointed to the idea of the “first time” someone tasted Campari Liqueur. The parody depicted Respondent’s first time as a drunken, incestuous encounter with his mother in an outhouse. Respondent brought suit against Petitioners, alleging invasion of privacy, libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found for Petitioner on the defamation and invasion of privacy claims, on the basis that no reasonable person would consider the parody as true. The same courts held for Respondent on the issue of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.


This case considers whether an award of damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress to the victim of a parody is consistent with the First Amendment freedom of the press.


* The Court found that to uphold the judgment of the lower courts would affect all political satire. Public officials and public figures were held unable to recover in emotional distress, when they could not prove that the publication was made knowingly, with actual malice. A parody, while admittedly in bad taste, is not considered malicious.


The important rule to understand here is how the court’s decision turned on Respondent’s status. If Respondent had been a private individual, arguably, his right of privacy would have allowed him to recover for emotional distress. Because Respondent was a public figure, he could not prevail in defamation, nor could he claim emotional dist

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