I’m kind of a nut, sometimes.
I mean that in a benign way. My occasional little bout of unusualness usually expresses itself in very, very benign ways. I sing in the car. I make up languages, and then talk to myself in them (don’t judge).
And I sometimes decide, out of the clear, blue sky, to focus on subjects that one might not expect a guy to focus on for any rational reason.
A good example – I once spent three months reading about the German invasion of Poland – from large-scale histories down to very micro-level accounts by Polish soldiers and civilians. This in the days before the Internet, mind you. Another week back in high school, it was learning how to improvise explosives (Note to Janet Napolitano: It was entirely academic). In my mid-twenties, it was Asian cooking. And it’s covered many other topics, too – as you may be able to tell from this blog’s rather peripatetic range of subjects.
I sat bolt updright in bed the other day, and thought “wouldn’t it be fun to explain Minnesota law as regards defamation?”
Seriously – that’s the only reason I’m doing this – pure unvarnished serendipity!
It didn’t take much digging to get down to the crux of the gist; defamation (traditionally broken into “Libel”, or written/printed defamation, and “slander”, or spoken defamation, although those categories are largely vestigial holdovers from English common law, where the printing press and the spoken word were pretty much the extent of mass communication, although the lines are blurring rapidly today) is when someone says, writes, or otherwise transmits…:
- …something that is defamatory – in other words, that has a reasonable chance of damaging the subject’s livelihood or reputation (where “reasonable” means “would convince a jury”)…
- …to one or more third parties – meaning that someone besides the target has to hear it. The communication in question must be…
- …untrue, as in “there is no truth to it”.
- And if the target of the statement is a “public figure”, the target needs to prove the person making the statement acted out of malice.
Seems pretty clear-cut, right? I mean, here’s Minnesota’s “Criminal Defamation” statute, which covers most of the same sorts of things.
Well, no. It’s not. There is all sorts of case law on the subject – all the little crossed fingers behind the metaphorical back that the legal system churns out to make sure only lawyers can really follow the law without some major effort.
And some of those crossed fingers are a good thing. Otherwise, you could have a situation like in the UK, where defamation is frightfully easy to prove, to the point where it genuinely chills freedom of speech, and always has – which is one major reason why American jurisprudence has legitimately tried to make proving defamation a much harder hill to climb.
So over the course of this week, we’ll look at some of the wrinkles to defamation law.
Apropos, again, nothing but my own schizoid whim.