False Light: A New Weapon in the SLAPP Arsenal?

By Barr, Lisa J. | Communications and the Law, June 2002 | Go to article overview

False Light: A New Weapon in the SLAPP Arsenal?


Barr, Lisa J., Communications and the Law


BACKGROUND

The false light theory of the privacy tort is a relatively new legal concept. (1) In many ways, it is similar to a defamation claim. (2) The actual malice requirement imposed by Sullivan (3) and progeny made libel a less attractive avenue for plaintiffs with public status to pursue against journalists. False light, however, addresses many of the same concerns. Would courts apply the actual malice test given similar language in the definition of false light? Scholars from the fields of law and mass media worried that false light could prove an effective end-run around defamation protections for news coverage of public figures and public officials. (4)

With defamation, the focus concerned whether the subject of a news report was a public figure for purposes of the actual malice test. With false light, the questions concern how far into a public player's life a journalist can go without exposure to false light litigation--and whether false light provides less protection than the actual malice test of a libel claim. The concurrence in Rosenblatt summed up the risk facing journalists who report on possibly private aspects of "public" people's lives, in saying that "[t]he protection of private personality, like the protection of life itself, is left primarily to the individual States under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. But this does not mean that the right is entitled to any less recognition by this Court as a basic of our constitutional system." (5)

NEED FOR STUDY

An examination of four mass media law texts and their indexes found that false light privacy rarely received significant and consistent attention. At various times it was listed under privacy or libel, and coverage ranged from one to fourteen pages. (6) Perhaps that is because only two-thirds of the states expressly recognize false light. (7) However, false light actions appended to defamation cases against news media defendants increased from seven (7) cases before 1980 to fifty-three (53) in the next twelve years. (8) That same period prompted great debates about changes in media ownership. (9)

Given the surge in cases and the great controversy about the use of this tort against the news media, study of the nature and success of such cases seemed necessary. This study also sought any evidence of either judicial reaction to a changing news media, or changing public perceptions about news media performance. The latter concern is important because constitutional protections for the news media are undergirded by attitudes that the press is acting in the public interest. (10)

METHODOLOGY AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Decennial digests provided the names of 600 false light cases. After the exclusion of many cases involving former lovers and employers, a 120-case sample of news media cases emerged. The fact patterns of the media cases selected Often are as lively as the ones excluded. For that reason, certain case fact patterns are discussed along with the tallies of variables used to answer three research questions:

1. Are false light cases against media entities changing in number, nature, or success?

2. Do such cases reflect expectations of a "watchdog" or public service role for the media as exemplified by Sullivan and progeny?

3. Do these decisions reflect judicial recognition of the increased concentration of media ownership?

Simple tallies and percentages are used provide brief numeric explanation to the research questions, based upon a coding sheet (included at the end of this article). The reader is spared discussion of coding, unless the answer is not self-explanatory. Relevant examples and explanations from the case law examined provide the bulk of analysis. Discussion of findings related to each research question are preceded by relevant graphs.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION, RESEARCH QUESTION 1: ARE FALSE LIGHT CASES AGAINST MEDIA ENTITIES CHANGING IN NUMBER, NATURE, OR SUCCESS? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

False Light: A New Weapon in the SLAPP Arsenal?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.