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Time for a shocking, banner headline: KATIE HOLMES SUING TABLOID FOR $50 MILLION OVER DRUG ADDICTION CLAIM. It’s pretty catchy and no doubt, many people will scan this headline on Twitter or Facebook without actually take the time to dig into the complaint to read the claims. (Not you, of course. The actual complaint is below.)
Interestingly, Katie Holmes is alleging that American Media’s Star Magazine presented the claim about Holmes’ supposed drug addiction via an enormous cover announcement about a “Katie DRUG SHOCKER!” and “ADDICTION NIGHTMARE.” Holmes’ lawyers assert that the cover itself libels Holmes, as tens of millions of people saw it as they passed through supermarket checkout lines or other public locations, and that few were likely to flip to page 42 and see beyond the still “bold and bogus headlines” to read the small print about Holmes using a device called an “e-meter” in counseling sessions at the Church of Scientology, a device which allegedly causes a person’s body to release endorphins.
The complaint says that an “e-meter” is simply an inert device and “even if it might cause the body to produce endorphins (which is doubtful), vigorous exercise produces endorphins, and no one would call exercise a drug or an exercise regimen a “DRUG SHOCKER” or “ADDICTION NIGHTMARE.”
Even if. Hmm. Sounds like there’s a little bit of wiggle room of doubt on that score whereby the story itself gets a pass for being defamatory, if not the cover and banner headlines.
Which reminds us of a case in the late-90s where Kato Kaelin of OJ Simpson murder trial fame sued Globe Communications over the tabloid headline, COPS THINK KATO DID IT!
At the Ninth Circuit, the appeals court justices reviewed Kaelin’s argument that the headline was defamatory.
“Defamation actions cannot be based on snippets taken out of context,” wrote Justice Barry Silverman in setting up the analysis. “By the same token, not every word of an allegedly defamatory publication has to be false and defamatory to sustain a libel action.”
The justices found that yes, Kaelin found clear and convincing evidence to get to a jury on the issue of whether the headlines are susceptible of a false and defamatory meaning, and that a juror could find that Globe’s editors acted with actual malice in their decision to run a headline leading to the conclusion that Kaelin was a murder suspect. The Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court’s summary judgement to dismiss the case, and Kaelin’s defamation lawsuit was remanded back to a lower court for trial.
Star Magazine will probably try to show there was no malevolence intended; just a desire to sell copies. The outcome will depend on the way it got there.
This post has been corrected to more accurately reflect the 9th Circuit ruling.
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