York Times v. Sullivan:
The First Amendment "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."
Gertz v. Welch:
"We hold 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."
"[W]e hold that the States may not
permit recovery of presumed or punitive damages, at least when
liability is not based on a showing of knowledge of falsity or reckless
disregard for the truth."
Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v.
We have never considered whether the Gertz balance obtains when the
defamatory statements involve no issue of public concern. To make this
determination, we must employ the approach approved in Gertz and
balance the State's interest in compensating private individuals for
injury to their reputation against the First Amendment interest in
protecting this type of expression. This state interest is identical to
the one weighed in Gertz. There we found that is was "strong and
legitimate." The First Amendment interest, on the other hand, is less
important than the one weighed in Gertz. Speech on matters of private
concern is of less First Amendment concern. In such a case, "[t]here is
no threat to the free and robust debate of public issues; there is no
potential interference with a meaningful dialogue of ideas concerned
self-government; and there is no threat of liability causing a reaction
of self-censorship by the press." In light of the reduced
constitutional value of speech involving no matters of public concern,
we hold that the state interest adequately supports awards of presumed
and punitive damages - even absent a showing of "actual malice."