4c. Libel hypothetical

In-class  Ex. 5

COMS 400
Analysis of  Libel / Privacy  hypothetical cases

  • — Are the 5 elements of libel present?
  • — Can any of the 3 main libel defenses be used?
  • — Is this a public or a private person?  (actual malice vs negligence )
  • — If stipulated or provable as true, is the information an invasion of privacy?
  • —  Will the 3 main defenses against invasion of privacy help?
    ( newsworthiness, consent, public record )


  1. The Blessed Punks, billed as a Christian folk rock group, play on campus, and the review for your student publication says the only religious part of the experience was the wailing of damned souls coming from the stage. The university decides not to invite them back, citing your review.  They sue for libel. Are you in trouble?
  2.   A retired high school teacher, Mary Sue Smith, is arrested and charged with shoplifting. She suffers ridicule from other teachers in the area. You publish the story and the facts are recorded accurately from the police blotter. She sues for invasion of privacy and libel.
  3. Lets say the same high school teacher is inaccurately identified on your web site.  Its not Mary Sue Smith, it’s Mary Roberta Smith. You check the police blotter and sure enough, you made a mistake when you wrote down the name. You had a few days to check it, but you didn’t.  So now Mary S. Smith is suing for libel.   What do you do?
  4. The victim of a loathsome crime is named in an article in your paper. You got his name from a police report.  He  feels like his rights to privacy were violated and he sues you for invasion of privacy. Does he have a case?  What other things should you think about?
  5. In court testimony, the president of a university says that Frank Mann, a scientist at the same  university, should be found guilty of criminal fraud for using state funds to pursue research into climate change. You publish the story and now the professor is suing your web site and the university president for libel. Meanwhile, the charges are dropped and the scientist keeps his job. So are you in trouble in this libel case?
  6. An article accusing the mayor of dealing drugs has appeared on one of your news organization’s blog sites, and you ask the reporter about it, and it turns out that the reporter knew it wasn’t true but went ahead and published the allegations, made by a confidential source.   What do you do?
  7. An advertisement for a local Tea Party group during an election accuses a democratic state legislator of “high treason” and  prints a legislative voting record that appears to have been fabricated.  Is it libel? What do you do?
  8. A student government association president tells the student  newspaper editor that she doesn’t have permission to quote the SGA president in an open session of the SGA.  She threatens to sue for libel if she is quoted.  How worried should the editor be ?