QUOTE(nighttimer @ Mar 6 2008, 08:51 PM)
In a political season passions run high and so do the opportunities for ridicule.
Public figures are always easy targets to be skewered over their latest misstep. Just Google the names of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears today, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton yesterday and Pee Wee Herman and Michael Jackson even further back.
Now throw a political figure in the mix and it gets messy.
That's because fat and Mary Jo Kopechne killing old Teddy Kennedy is a liberal and a Democrat. Larry "Wide Stance" Craig and Mark "Ummm...boys" Foley are Republicans. And Dick "I shoot my friends in the face" Cheney is a Republican and the vice-president of the U.S. And Bill "I like chubby interns wearing thongs" Clinton is a Democrat.
And Barack Hussein Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Sidney McCain are among the possible contenders to be the next President of the United States.
So is it within the bounds of satire, sarcasm and good taste to talk about Obama's ears and middle name or Clinton's endless assortment of pantsuits that cover her fat ankles or McCain's tendency to say "my friends" a lot?
How far can you go before you're being racist about Obama, sexist about Hillary and ageist about McCain?
Who's a fair target for ridicule? The Rutgers woman basketball team as Don Imus thought or Condoleeza Rice as I think?
The board's Survival Guide reads: Only members can be personally attacked. Short of libel, public figures are fair game.
Libel is defined by Merriam-Webster as: 2 a: a written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression b (1): a statement or representation published without just cause and tending to expose another to public contempt (2): defamation of a person by written or representational means
My question is simple: At what point does a poster know they have libeled a public figure and violated The Survival Guide?
Quick word on defamation law, as it relates to this...
A statement isn't libelous unless it...
1.) Causes its target ill-will in his or her community
2.) is repeated or published to the outside world
3.) is false
BUT, if your dealing with a public figure, the statement has to demonstrate actual malice, or "reckless disregard for the truth." There's a hook to this: Let's say you, nighttimer, are a celebrity because, you make movies. Unless my statements about you deal with your celebrity as a filmmaker, then for the purposes of that case, you are not a public figure. If I call Mel Brooks homosexual, then I think, reasonably, he could bring a case against me as a private individual because his life as a director has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. In that case he wouldn't have to prove actual malice, he'd just have to prove the above three conditions. But, if I said that Mel Brooks molested one of his actors, then he would be considered, for the purposes of that case, a public figure, meaning he would have to prove that I printed my comments with the full knowledge or reasonable suspicion that said comments were false. That is a very hard condition to prove.
But, for presidents...
Almost nothing in a presidential candidate's life is considered private. Politicians are as public as figures get, which means that, if Barack Obama wants to sue Fox News, he's going to have to prove that they printed or broadcasted their comments based on information that they knew or should have known were false. That's why talking heads on fox news can say he was "raised in a madrassa." Those rumors are widespread enough that a guest on Bill O'Reilly's show could waltz in and repeat them under the assumption that they were true.
If Bill O'Reilly said "my friend, NightTimer was raised in a Madrassa," that would be a totally different deal. For that case, all you'd have to prove is that a.) o'reilly's statements harmed your reputation in your community, b.) that he said them on national tv, c.) that you weren't raised in a madrassa.
But if you ran for president, you'd have to prove that Bill O'Reilly knew, or had absolutely no reason to believe that you'd been raised in a Madrassa.
What I'm getting at is that I can say whatever I want about Barack Obama's ears or Hillary Clintons ankles before I get anywhere close to the boundaries of libel law.