Are we all “Public Men”

Are we all “Public Men” 150 150 Affordable Capstone Projects Written from Scratch

A. Insofar as the dictum of Justice Brennan in Rosenbloom v. Metromedia that… “Voluntarily or
not, we are all ‘public’ men to some degree.” (hence giving rise to the term “niche” public
figure) thanks to technology—are you surprised, scared? NOTE: As you think about a reply,
note that Brennan was always thinking about the future in his judicial opinions (he was best buds
with Justice Thurgood Marshall–together they changed the legal landscape of this nation); he
made this statement decades before widespread use of Web 1.0, and of course his words ring
loud and painful in Web 2.0—social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube,
other apps, and networks).
B. From what you have read this week, are you going to be more careful about what you as an
individual post…or repost…on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. for fear of inviting a
defamation suit? Assuming somebody’s pissed off at you and can meet the burden of going
forward (meet the elements of the tort and a prima facie case), just off the cuff, what might your
defenses be? NOTE: Facebook protects itself through waivers of liability etc in Terms of Use
(always read those…) and take-down procedures (we will see more in intellectual property/
copyright issues later in the course), though that still doesn’t immunize them.
C. Agree or disagree with my statements? (in other words, feel free to disagree!)
1. Any adult on a “reality show” is a public figure of some sort—niche, limited purpose, etc is
doesn’t matter. Whether its Honey Boo Boo, the Duck Dynasty rednecks, the horror show folks
on Love and Hip Hop, nude folks on Naked and Afraid etc (regardless of whether these people
have agents, booking agents, personal representatives)
2. A concerned citizen who spoke out at a DC City Council meeting about violent thefts of
iPhones, and then was quoted in an article in the City Paper about why Verizon, AT&T and even
Apple don’t make deactivation (“bricking”) immediate and ironclad—is an issue of public
concern, and decides to be a guest on two local public affairs radio shows, and interviewed by
the Washington Post is a public figure of sort.
3. A plane crash survivor is a public figure of some sort where there are TV and Web/print
stories mentioning her, vids, pics, quotes from her statements in the hospital where CNN
reporters came in and spoke to her and her family, then she appears on the Today Show with her
family, talking to Savannah Guthrie not just about the crash, but the power of Christ and family.
4. The father of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl was a public figure of some sort even though he made a TV
appearance at a press conference called by Pentagon to say he was glad his son was back. But
let’s say he is a public figure. Let’s say some commentator on Fox News said he was a Muslim, a
terrorist sympathizer, and looked like he likely molested Bowe or abused his wife. That
commentator, Fox and News Corp. likely would be able to say this was “opinion” (for the
individual) “fair comment” and possibly “fair reporting” (for Fox and News Corp) and thus a
defense to a defamation brought by he and his wife.
5. Thanks to some notable British libel (they still use the term there) cases (and as you now know
we share 600 years of common law with them) American Twitter account holders with accredited
(the blue check) accounts and large numbers of followers might one day be considered “thought
leaders” and thus public figures, which is bad for them if they want to sue for defamation. It’s
also bad because they make decent targets for people who want to sue them for stuff they’ve
tweet AND retweeted. It’s good, however, in that if such a person is a defendant in a suit, they
can claim to be a media outlet of sorts, and thus be more successful with interposing “fair
comment/fair reporting” or “opinion” defenses.


 

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