Hustler Magazine v. Falwell
485 U.S. 46 (1988)

  • Hustler (a dirty magazine) printed an over-the-top parody disparaging Falwell (a crusading televangelist), and suggesting that he was an immoral drunk.
    • The parody explicitly said at the bottom “ad parody – not to be taken seriously.”
  • Falwell sued, claiming libel, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
  • The Trial Court found partially for Falwell and awarded $150k in damages. Hustler appealed.
    • On the libel claim, the Trial Court found that the parody was so outlandish that it was obviously not meant to be taken seriously.
    • However, the Trial Court did find for Falwell with regards to the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Hustler appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and overturned the damage award.
    • The US Supreme Court found that public officials and public figures may not recover for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress without additionally showing that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with actual malice.
      • Actual malice means with knowledge that the statements are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.
    • Falwell unsuccessfully argued that a State’s interest in protecting their citizens from emotional distress was enough of a compelling government interest to infringe on the 1st Amendment right of free speech.
      • The Court found that this might be true for a private figure,
      • However, the Court found that for a public figure, the balance tipped towards freedom of speech because political cartoonists and satirists are an important part of the public discourse and there would be a chilling effect on them if they were subject to large damage awards.