In a discussion of "police brutality and related private
violence" in its 1961 Report, the Civil Rights Commission mentioned
the case of Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.
, and listed some of the allegations of Monroe's
civil rights complaint filed against certain Chicago policemen
headed by Deputy Chief of Detectives Pape. In an article about the
Report, Time magazine quoted from a summary of the complaint,
without indicating that the charges were Monroe's, and not the
independent findings of the Commission. Pape sued the petitioner
publisher for libel. The Court of Appeals reversed the District
Court's grant of Time's motion for summary judgment, holding that
there had to be a trial on the question of whether Time's failure
to make clear that it was reporting no more than allegations showed
"actual malice" (knowledge that the information was false or
reckless disregard of whether it was false or not) under the rule
of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.
. At the trial, the author of the article and the
researcher admitted awareness that the wording of the Report had
been significantly altered, but insisted that its real meaning had
not been changed. The District Court granted Time's motion for a
directed verdict at the close of the evidence, but the Court of
Appeals reversed, holding that the jury should determine whether
the omission of the word "alleged" showed "actual malice." Both
courts agreed that Pape was a "public official," and that the
article concerned his "official conduct."
In the circumstances of this case, the magazine
did not engage in a "falsification" sufficient, in itself, to
sustain a jury finding of "actual malice." Pp. 401 U. S.
(a) The magazine's omission of the word "alleged" amounted to
the adoption of one of several rational interpretations of a
document bristling with ambiguities, and while that choice might
reflect a misconception, it was not enough to create a jury issue
of "malice" under the rule of New York Times, supra,
would impose a stricter standard of liability on errors of
interpretation or judgment than on errors of historic fact. P.
401 U. S.
Page 401 U. S. 280
(b) This holding is confined to the specific facts of this case,
and nothing herein is to be understood as making the word "alleged"
a superfluity in published reports of information damaging to
reputation. P. 401 U. S.
419 F.2d 980, reversed and remanded.
STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ.,
joined. BLACK, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in
which DOUGLAS, J., joined, ante,
p. 401 U. S. 277
HARLAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post,
401 U. S.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
In November, 1961, the United States Commission on Civil Rights
issued the fifth volume of its Report for that year, a document
entitled Justice. A part of Justice was devoted to a study of
"police brutality and related private violence," and contained the
"Search., seizure, and violence: Chicago, 1958.
Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Monroe
on February 20, 1961. Although this decision did not
finally dispose of the case, it did permit the plaintiff to sue
several Chicago police officers for violation of the Federal Civil
Rights Acts on the basis of a complaint which alleged that:"
" . . . [O]n October 29, 1958, at 5:45 a.m., thirteen Chicago
police officers led by Deputy Chief of Detectives
Page 401 U. S. 281
Pape, broke through two doors of the Monroe apartment, woke the
Monroe couple with flashlights, and forced them at gunpoint to
leave their bed and stand naked in the center of the living room;
that the officers roused the six Monroe children and herded them
into the living room; that Detective Pape struck Mr. Monroe several
times with his flashlight, calling him 'nigger' and 'black boy;'
that another officer pushed Mrs. Monroe; that other officers hit
and kicked several of the children and pushed them to the floor;
that the police ransacked every room, throwing clothing from
closets to the floor, dumping drawers, ripping mattress covers;
that Mr. Monroe was then taken to the police station and detained
on 'open' charges for ten hours, during which time he was
interrogated about a murder and exhibited in lineups; that he was
not brought before a magistrate, although numerous magistrate's
courts were accessible; that he was not advised of his procedural
rights; that he was not permitted to call his family or an
attorney; that he was subsequently released without criminal
charges having been filed against him."
A week later, Time, a weekly news magazine, carried a report of
the Commission's new publication. The Time article began:
"The new paperback book has 307 pages and the simple title
It is the last of five volumes in the second
report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, first created by
Congress in 1957. Justice
carries a chilling text about
police brutality in both the South and the North -- and it stands
as a grave indictment, since its facts were carefully
Page 401 U. S. 282
by field agents and it was signed by all six of the noted
educators who comprise the commission."
There followed a description, with numerous direct quotations,
of one of the incidents described in Justice, and then the
following account of the Monroe incident:
"Shifting to the North, the report cites Chicago police
treatment of Negro James Monroe and his family, who were awakened
in their West Side apartment at 5:45 a.m. by 13 police officers,
ostensibly investigating a murder. The police, says Justice, 'broke
through two doors, woke the Monroe couple with flashlights. . .
The Time article went on to quote at length from the summary of
the Monroe complaint, without indicating in any way that the
charges were those made by Monroe, rather than independent findings
of the Commission.
Pape sued Time for libel in the United States District Court for
the Northern District of Illinois, there being diversity of
citizenship. Time moved to dismiss the suit on the ground that the
article was fair comment on a government report, and therefore
privileged under Illinois law; the District Court granted the
motion, but the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed.
318 F.2d 652. After remand, this Court decided New York Times
Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254
and, on the basis of that decision, the District Court granted
Time's motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Court of Appeals
again reversed, holding that there must be a trial on the question
of whether Time's failure to make clear that it was reporting no
more than allegations showed "actual malice." 354 F.2d 558.
At the trial, Pape called the policemen who had participated in
the Monroe raid. They all testified that nothing resembling the
events described in the Time
Page 401 U. S. 283
article as findings of the Commission had occurred. *
There was also
extensive testimony from the Time staff member who had written the
article and from the "researcher" who had been responsible for
checking its factual accuracy. The author testified that he had
written the article on the basis of the Justice report itself, a
Commission press release accompanying the report, and a New York
Times news story describing Justice. He conceded that he knew the
meanings of the words "alleged" and "complaint," but denied that
the Time article was false, given the full context of the Justice
report. The researcher testified that she had consulted several
newspaper articles describing Monroe's claims about the raid, and
several articles describing Pape's previous career. She said that
she had also read two dispatches from Time's Chicago correspondent,
one of them describing Monroe's charges without comment as to their
truth and the other asserting as fact that the events had actually
occurred. She conceded that she was aware of the omission of the
word "alleged" in the Time article, but said that she believed the
article to have been true as written.
At the close of the evidence, the District Court granted Time's
motion for a directed verdict, 294 F. Supp. 1087, and Pape appealed
for a third time. The Court of Appeals again reversed the District
Court, holding that it was for the jury to determine whether Time's
omission of the word "alleged" showed "actual malice." 419 F.2d
980. We granted certiorari in order to decide the constitutional
issue presented under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 397 U.S.
Page 401 U. S. 284
The District Court and the Court of Appeals were in agreement
that the plaintiff Pape was a "public official" by virtue of his
position as Deputy Chief of Detectives of the Chicago Police
Department, and that the charges contained in the Monroe complaint,
the Justice report, and the Time story concerned his "official
conduct." The two courts differed only in their application of the
rule of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.
"prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a
defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he
proves that the statement was made with 'actual malice' -- that is,
with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of
whether it was false or not."
at 376 U. S.
The only question before us, therefore, is whether the Court of
Appeals correctly applied this constitutional rule to the facts of
this case in reversing the directed verdict for the defendant.
Inquiries of this kind are familiar under the settled principle
"[i]n cases in which there is a claim of denial of rights under
the Federal Constitution, this Court is not bound by the
conclusions of lower courts, but will reexamine the evidentiary
basis on which those conclusions are founded."
Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U. S. 268
340 U. S. 271
Cf. Napue v. Illinois, 360 U. S. 264
360 U. S.
-272. And in cases involving the area of tension
between the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on the one hand, and
state defamation laws, on the other, we have frequently had
occasion to review "the evidence in the . . . record to determine
whether it could constitutionally support a judgment" for the
plaintiff. New York Times, supra,
at 376 U. S.
-285; Beckley Newspapers v. Hanks,
389 U. S. 81
389 U. S. 83
St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U. S. 727
Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Assn. v. Bresler,
398 U. S. 6
398 U. S. 11
The Time news article reported as a charge by the Commission
what was, in its literal terms, a description
Page 401 U. S. 285
by the Commission of the allegations in a complaint filed by a
plaintiff in a civil rights action. This situation differs in a
number of respects from the conventional libel case. First, the
publication sued on was not Time's independent report of the Monroe
episode, but its report of what the Civil Rights Commission had
said about that episode. Second, the alleged damage to reputation
was not that arising from mere publication, but rather that
resulting from attribution of the Monroe accusations to an
authoritative official source. Finally, Time made no claim of good
faith error or mere negligence. Both the author of the article and
the researcher admitted an awareness at the time of publication
that the wording of the Commission Report had been significantly
altered, but insisted that its real meaning had not been
The Court of Appeals concluded that it was obvious that the
omission of the word "allegation" or some equivalent was a
"falsification" of the Report. Since the omission was admittedly
conscious and deliberate, the only remaining question in the
court's view was whether there had been "malice" in the sense of an
"intent to inflict harm through falsehood." Such an intent, the
court thought, might reasonably be inferred from the very act of
deliberate omission, and the issue of malice was consequently one
for the jury.
Analysis of this kind may be adequate when the alleged libel
purports to be an eyewitness or other direct account of events that
speak for themselves. For example, in St. Amant, supra,
made good sense to separate the question of the truth of St.
Amant's charges of corruption and official misbehavior from the
question of whether he had an adequate basis to believe them true.
But a vast amount of what is published in the daily and periodical
press purports to be descriptive of what somebody said,
rather than of what anybody did.
Page 401 U. S. 286
perhaps the largest share of news concerning the doings of
government appears in the form of accounts of reports, speeches,
press conferences, and the like. The question of the "truth" of
such an indirect newspaper report presents rather complicated
A press report of what someone has said about an underlying
event of news value can contain an almost infinite variety of
shadings. Where the source of the news makes bald assertions of
fact -- such as that a policeman has arrested a certain man on a
criminal charge -- there may be no difficulty. But where the source
itself has engaged in qualifying the information released,
complexities ramify. Any departure from full direct quotation of
the words of the source, with all its qualifying language,
inevitably confronts the publisher with a set of choices.
The Civil Rights Commission's Justice report is a typical
example of these problems. The underlying story that gave the
report newsworthiness was the picture of police violence against
citizens. Many of the incidents included were quite clearly
designed to shock, anger, and alarm the reader, indeed to move him
into a position of support for specific legislative recommendations
of the Commission. Yet the attitude of the Commission toward the
factual verity of the episodes recounted was anything but
First, the episodes were presented in the context of a report
which, from the first page, purported to be dealing with a problem
of unquestionable reality and seriousness:
"In 1931 President Hoover's Wickersham Committee found extensive
evidence of police lawlessness, including unjustified violence.
Sixteen years later, another Presidential Committee, this one
appointed by President Truman, concluded that police brutality,
especially against the unpopular, the weak, and the defenseless,
was a distressing problem. And
Page 401 U. S. 287
now, in 1961, this Commission must report that police brutality
is still a serious problem throughout the United States."
Justice 1. Two pages later, the report said that
"The Commission is particularly impressed by the fact that most
police officers never resort to brutal practices. Because of this
fact, instances of brutality or discrimination in law enforcement
stand out in bold relief. It is hoped that, by focusing the
attention of the President, the Congress, and the public on these
remaining incongruities, this Report may contribute to their
This process of focusing attention began on the next page with
the chapter heading, in large type: "UNLAWFUL POLICE VIOLENCE."
There followed the crucial description of the foundations on which
the ensuing reports were based:
"In the text of this chapter the Commission briefly describes
the alleged facts in 11 typical cases of police brutality. They are
presented in the belief that they contribute to an understanding of
the problem. The allegations of misconduct are supported in several
cases by criminal convictions or findings by impartial agencies; in
others, by sworn testimony, affidavits from eye witnesses, or by
staff field investigations. In no case has the Commission
determined conclusively whether the complainants or the officers
were correct in their statements. This is the function of a court.
The Commission is of the opinion, however, that the allegations
appeared substantial enough to justify discussion in this
This statement may fairly be characterized as extravagantly
ambiguous. On the one hand, what was to follow was "11 typical
cases of police brutality," each
Page 401 U. S. 288
of which "contribute[s] to an understanding of the problem," and
was "substantial enough to justify discussion" in the study. A
range of sources was described, each of a nature to inspire
confidence in the reader. But, the reader was nonetheless told that
these were "alleged facts," "allegations of misconduct," which had
not been "determined conclusively" to be "correct." The suggestion
that such a conclusive determination could be made only by a court
capped the confusion: in context, it was impossible to know whether
the Commission was seeking to encourage belief or skepticism
regarding the incidents about to be described.
Turning the page, the reader was confronted with another heading
in capitals, "PATTERNS OF POLICE BRUTALITY," and then the
descriptions of the various incidents began. Each had an italicized
heading (e.g., "The killing of a Negro in Georgia: 1943
followed by an account giving both sides of the story and carefully
describing all facts as "alleged" or using direct quotations. The
tone of total neutrality as to the truth or falsity of the claims
of brutality was frequently marred, however, by remarks that
appeared to indicate the Commission's unexpressed views. At the end
of a description entitled "The killing of a Negro in
" for example, the report said,
"[n]o local disciplinary or criminal action was taken against
any of the officers involved. The attitude of local authorities
toward police was protective in this and several other cases of
alleged brutality that occurred within a brief period. . . ."
The description of the Monroe incident bore the italicized
title: "Search, seizure, and violence: Chicago, 1958.
Unlike the reports of the other incidents, however, this report
limited itself to the summary of a plaintiff's complaint in a
lawsuit, as indicated at the outset of this opinion. No attempt was
made to give any other version
Page 401 U. S. 289
of the story, and the next report ("The killing of a Negro
in Cleveland: 1969
") followed immediately after the end of the
In a chapter entitled "Conclusions," the Commission set forth
its findings and recommendations. These included a finding that
"police brutality by some State and local officers presents a
serious and continuing problem in many parts of the United States.
Both whites and Negroes are the victims, but Negroes are the
victims of such brutality far more, proportionately, than any other
group in American society."
The recommendations included proposals for a grant-in-aid
program to improve the quality of state and local police forces and
for passage of a federal statute outlawing illegal police violence.
at 109-112. Since the series of incidents described
earlier in the report was the only evidence the Commission
presented in support of its findings and recommendations, there was
a logically inevitable implication that the Commission must have
believed that the incidents described had in truth occurred.
In light of the totality of what was said in Justice, we cannot
agree that, when Time failed to state that the Commission in
reporting the Monroe incident had technically confined itself to
the allegations of a complaint, Time engaged in a "falsification"
sufficient, in itself, to sustain a jury finding of "actual
malice." The author of the Time article testified, in substance,
that the context of the report of the Monroe incident indicated to
him that the Commission believed that the incident had occurred as
described. He therefore denied that he had falsified the report
when he omitted the word "alleged." The Time researcher, who had
read newspaper stories about the incident and two reports from a
Time reporter in Chicago, as well as the accounts of Pape's earlier
career, had even more reason to suppose that the Commission took
the charges to be true.
Page 401 U. S. 290
Time's omission of the word "alleged" amounted to the adoption
of one of a number of possible rational interpretations of a
document that bristled with ambiguities. The deliberate choice of
such an interpretation, though arguably reflecting a misconception,
was not enough to create a jury issue of "malice" under New
To permit the malice issue to go to the jury
because of the omission of a word like "alleged," despite the
context of that word in the Commission Report and the external
evidence of the Report's overall meaning, would be to impose a much
stricter standard of liability on errors of interpretation or
judgment than on errors of historic fact.
New York Times
was premised on a recognition that, as
Madison put it, "Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the
proper use of everything, and in no instance is this more true than
in that of the press." 4 J. Elliot's Debates on the Federal
Constitution 571 (1876). With respect to errors of fact in
reporting events, we said in New York Times:
"A rule compelling the critic of official conduct to guarantee
the truth of all his factual assertions -- and to do so on pain of
libel judgments virtually unlimited in amount -- leads to . . .
'self-censorship.' Allowance of the defense of truth, with the
burden of proving it on the defendant, does not mean that only
false speech will be deterred. Even courts accepting this defense
as an adequate safeguard have recognized the difficulties of
adducing legal proofs that the alleged libel was true in all its
factual particulars. . . . Under such a rule, would-be critics of
official conduct may be deterred from voicing their criticism, even
though it is believed to be true and even though it is in fact,
true, because of doubt whether it can be proved in court or fear of
the expense of having to do so."
376 U.S. at 376 U. S.
Page 401 U. S. 291
These considerations apply with even greater force to the
situation where the alleged libel consists in the claimed
misinterpretation of the gist of a lengthy government document.
Where the document reported on is so ambiguous as this one was, it
is hard to imagine a test of "truth" that would not put the
publisher virtually at the mercy of the unguided discretion of a
In certain areas of the law of defamation, New York
added to the tort law of the individual States a
constitutional zone of protection for errors of fact caused by
negligence. The publisher who maintains a standard of care such as
to avoid knowing falsehood or reckless disregard of the truth is
thereby given assurance that those errors that nonetheless occur
will not lay him open to an indeterminable financial liability.
This protection would not exist for errors of interpretation were
the analysis of the Court of Appeals to be adopted, for once a jury
was satisfied that the interpretation was "wrong," the error itself
would be sufficient to justify a verdict for the plaintiff.
In St. Amant v. Thompson, supra,
at 390 U. S. 731
"Our cases . . . have furnished meaningful guidance for the
further definition of a reckless publication. In New York
the plaintiff did not satisfy his burden because
the record failed to show that the publisher was aware of the
likelihood that he was circulating false information. In
Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 64
(1964) . . . , the
opinion emphasized the necessity for a showing that a false
publication was made with a 'high degree of awareness of . . .
probable falsity.' 379 U.S. at 379 U. S.
. . . . These cases are clear that reckless conduct is
not measured by whether a reasonably prudent man would have
published, or would have investigated before publishing. There must
be sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendant,
Page 401 U. S. 292
entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication.
Publishing with such doubts shows reckless disregard for truth or
falsity, and demonstrates actual malice."
Applying this standard to Time's interpretation of the
Commission Report, it can hardly be said that Time acted in
reckless disregard of the truth. Given the ambiguities of the
Commission Report as a whole, and the testimony of the Time author
and researcher, Time's conduct reflected, at most, an error of
judgment. We have held that, if "the freedoms of expression are to
have the breathing space' that they `need . . . to survive,'"
misstatements of this kind must have the protection of the First
and Fourteenth Amendments. New York Times, supra, at
376 U. S.
We would add, however, a final cautionary note. Nothing in this
opinion is to be understood as making the word "alleged" a
superfluity in published reports of information damaging to
reputation. Our decision today is based on the specific facts of
this case, involving as they do a news report of a particular
government publication that purported to describe the specific
grounds for perceiving in 1961 "a serious problem throughout the
"Neither lies nor false communications serve the ends of the
First Amendment, and no one suggests their desirability or further
proliferation. But to insure the ascertainment and publication of
the truth about public affairs, it is essential that the First
Amendment protect some erroneous publications as well as true
St. Amant v. Thompson, supra,
at 390 U. S.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case
is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
It is so ordered.
[For separate opinion of MR. JUSTICE BLACK, see ante,
p. 401 U. S.
Page 401 U. S. 293
* On January 24, 1963, after a jury finding of liability,
judgment was entered against Pape in the civil rights suit brought
against him by Monroe. The jury awarded Monroe damages of $8,000.
Pape did not appeal, and the judgment was satisfied.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, dissenting.
I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, essentially
for the reasons stated in Judge Duffy's opinion for that court. The
treatment of this case by our Court, however, prompts me to venture
these additional comments.
I fully agree with the rule first enunciated in New York
Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254
(1964), that restricts the liability of those who utter defamatory
falsehoods regarding public officials. We there recognized that,
because "erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate,"
at 376 U. S. 271
"neither factual error nor defamatory content suffices to remove
the constitutional shield from criticism of official conduct."
at 376 U. S. 273
But these considerations did not persuade us to rule that the
Constitution grants absolute immunity to everyone, be it the news
media or anyone else, who libels a public official, or to conclude
that the usual processes of law are inadequate for dealing with
this kind of litigation. Rather, we decided that the substantial
First Amendment interests implicated in any libel suit of this sort
would be adequately served by a constitutional rule that subjects
such a statement to the sanctions of the common law of libel only
where it was uttered "with actual malice' -- that is, with
knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether
it was false or not." Id. at 376 U. S.
The step taken today, whereby this Court undertakes to judge,
"on the specific facts of this case," ante
at 401 U. S. 292
whether a jury could reasonably find that Time magazine's
characterization of the Commission's report was sufficiently
inaccurate to permit the concomitant finding that it was published
with "malice," is, in my judgment, not warranted.
I can perceive no rational basis for distinguishing this case
from one in which a newspaper or an individual seeks to have this
Court review the record upon which a properly instructed jury found
liability, where evidence
Page 401 U. S. 294
sufficient to support its verdict exists, and where these
matters have been reviewed by a court of appeals applying correct
legal standards. As I see things, the Court identifies no such
distinguishing feature about this case.
While it is true, of course, that this Court is free to
reexamine for itself the evidentiary bases upon which rest
decisions that allegedly impair or punish the exercise of
Fourteenth Amendment freedoms, this does not mean that we are, of
necessity, always, or even usually, compelled to do so. Indeed, it
is almost impossible to conceive how this Court might continue to
function effectively were we to resolve afresh the underlying
factual disputes in all cases containing constitutional issues. Nor
can I discern in those First Amendment considerations that led us
to restrict the States' powers to regulate defamation of public
officials any additional interest that is not served by the actual
malice rule of New York Times, supra,
but is substantially
promoted by utilizing this Court as the ultimate arbiter of factual
disputes in those libel cases where no unusual factors, such as
allegations of harassment or the existence of a jury verdict
resting on erroneous instructions, cf. New York Times,
are present. While I am confident that the Court does
not intend its decision to have any such broad reach, I fear that
what is done today may open a door that will prove difficult to
Having determined that the court below properly defined the
quality of proof required of Pape by New York Times
that it applied the correct standard of review in passing upon the
trial judge's decision to grant a directed verdict --
determinations that I do not think my Brethren dispute -- I would
stop the inquiry at this point and affirm the judgment of the Court