Do you walk the line of libel?
Published: Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 22:02
Our country has always held the firm belief that the freedoms of expression and of the media are among the most important rights afforded to Americans.
Yet, should this right be censored when it is too outrageous? In the obvious case of "yelling fire in a crowded movie theater," the answer is a resounding "no."
What about the newspaper that published a political cartoon depicting the sitting governor of Georgia as Adolf Hitler? Perhaps censorship is in order to protect the dignity of a sitting elected official from libel. Or at least, that is the case the governor's office is making.
The mere depiction of an elected official as Hitler is not tantamount to libel.
We live in a country whose roots are laden with outrageous attacks and vehement opposition to the government. Our country may have faced more of a struggle during the Revolutionary War if our Founders hadn't written expressions such as the "Silence Dogood" (a.k.a. Ben Franklin) Letters to the Editor.
It is absolutely absurd to think that the average enlightened American would believe that the governor of Georgia is a Nazi — or be led to believe that he holds the same ludicrous opinions.
In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled on this matter in the New York Times Co. vs. Sullivan decision.
The court held that in order for a news entity to have committed the tort of "libel," it must have published the article (or political cartoon) with "actual malice." Simply put, the newspaper had to know that what it was printing was false, and printed it for the sole purpose of making the subject look unscrupulous.
The newspaper in question was merely trying to prove a political point about the governor's stance on the controversial immigration law.
While I agree with the law and admit that the governor has a few black smudges on his ethical record, I believe that the paper has the unimpeachable constitutional and legal authority to express their opposition to a hot-button issue facing our society in any way they see fit.
In reality, the chances of the governor of Georgia suing the "El Nuevo Georgia" newspaper are between nil and non-existent unless he doesn't plan on seeking re-election.
I believe the only sensible time that a newspaper, or any other publication, should be silenced or censored is if it poses a clear danger to the general welfare of society (i.e., Wikileaks), or deliberately purports facts known to be false in order to convincingly defame somebody's reputation.
As Justice Potter Stewart opined, "Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime."