February 11, 2018

JONATHAN ADLER AT THE VOLOKH CONSPIRACY: Whatever Happened to Michael Mann’s Defamation Suit (2018 edition)?

It cannot be that once some official body has conducted an investigation of an individual’s conduct, that further criticism of that individual, including criticism that expressly questions the thoroughness or accuracy of the investigatory body, is off limits. By this standard it would be defamatory to express the opinion that George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson is a murderer, even if one also argued that the reason either was exonerated was because of structural racism in the criminal-justice system. After all, each was investigated, tried and found not guilty. Nor is it consistent with existing First Amendment doctrine to suggest that hyperbolic accusations of bad faith or dishonesty against public figures involved in policy debates are actionable. The court’s approach is particularly problematic here because both Simberg and Steyn offered reasoned (if also intemperate) explanations for why they did not credit the investigations and why they believed that these investigations failed to uncover the misconduct they believe occurred. Yet according to the court, the existence of these investigations could be sufficient for a jury to find, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that they acted with actual malice.

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