LORAIN JOURNAL CO. v. MILKOVICH
474 U.S. 953

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

LORAIN JOURNAL CO. v. MILKOVICH , 474 U.S. 953 (1985)

474 U.S. 953

The LORAIN JOURNAL CO. et al.
v.
Michael MILKOVICH, Sr.
No. 84-1731

Supreme Court of the United States

November 4, 1985

On Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.

Error and misstatement are inevitable in any scheme of truly free expression and debate. Because punishment of error may induce a cautious and restrained exercise of the freedoms of speech and press, the fruitful exercise of these essential freedoms requires a degree of "breathing space ." NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 433, 338 ( 1963). Accordingly, "we protect some falsehood in order to protect speech that matters." Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 341, 3007 (1974); see also St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 732, 1326 (1968). The New York Times actual malice

Page 474 U.S. 953 , 954

standard defines the level of constitutional protection appropriate in the context of defamation of a public official. It rests on our "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270, 721 (1964). In Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 ( 1967), the New York Times standard was extended to statements criticizing " public figures" because we recognized that " 'public figures,' like 'public officials,' often play an influential role in ordering society" and that therefore "[o]ur citizenry has a legitimate and substantial interest in the conduct of such persons, and freedom of the press to engage in uninhibited debate about their involvement in public issues and events is as crucial as it is in the case of 'public officials.' " 388 U.S., at 164 (Warren, C.J., concurring in result). In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., supra, we limited the applicability of the New York Times standard by holding that "so long as they do not impose liability without fault, the States may define for themselves the appropriate standard of liability for a publisher or broadcaster of defamatory falsehood injurious to a private individual." 418 U.S., at 347 (footnote omitted).

In this case, the Ohio Supreme Court found Gertz rather than New York Times applicable to respondent Milkovich's libel suit against petitioners. Ostensibly, then, the issue presented in this petition is simply the narrow one whether petitioners will be required to pay damages upon a showing of negligence or actual malice. However, by allowing damages to be awarded upon a showing of negligence, thereby diminishing the " breathing space" allowed for free expression in the New York Times case, the decision in Gertz exacerbated the likelihood of self-censorship with respect to reports concerning "private individuals." See 418 U.S., at 365- 368-3021 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). Consequently, the rules we adopt to determine an individual's status as "public" or "private" powerfully affect the manner in which the press decides what to publish and, more importantly, what not to publish. In finding New York Times inapplicable, the Ohio Supreme Court read the "public official" and " public figure" doctrines in an exceptionally narrow way that is sure to restrict expression by the press in Ohio. Its decision is especially unfortunate in that it most affects reporting by local papers about the local controversies that constitute their primary content. Moreover, it is these local papers that are most coerced by the threat of libel damages [474 U.S. 953 , 955]


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