The Mighty Media Machine of Stacey CampfieldThe rage across the internet is the libel lawsuit of now-former Democratic House candidate Roger Byrge against State Representative Stacey Campfield. Apparently, Mr. Byrge believes he has a case because of this excerpt from Campfield's blog:
"Word is a ... mail piece has gone out exposing Byrge's multiple separate drug arrests," Campfield wrote on the blog. "Including arrests for possession and drug dealing. (I hear the mug shots are gold)."
For those in need of a translation, when Stacey says "word is," it means "I have heard this from a source and until it happens, this is secondhand or unofficial information." The post in question was about a mailer that was apparently never sent out. Had the rumored mailer been sent out and the charges were in fact false and could be proven so, then Mr. Byrge would have serious grounds for a libel suit. Because the mailer was not sent out and the charges therein were never forced to be proven false, Stacey Campfield's post falls under the category of rumor about a public figure, and that means that Roger Byrge doesn't have grounds to sue Rocky and Bullwinkle if he wanted to, and this case will be laughed out of court.
Why is that? Because the standards of libel for anyone considered a public figure are quite different than for those not in public life per a 1964 Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan. In Sullivan the Supreme Court held that a person or media outlet (we must assume that Byrge alleges that Campfield in his capacity as a blogger is a media outlet-so much for the theory that bloggers are ignoramuses in pajamas who live with their parents-thank you, Roger Byrge) must be acting with actual malice. In later cases, the Supreme Court and lower courts have set this actual malice standard to mean that damages cannot be awarded to public figures for inflicting "emotional distress" upon them (see Hustler Magazine v. Falwell). Further, Campfield has the legal privilege to express opinion on his blog and to cite information which he heard secondhand or even thirdhand without fear of libel since Campfield was not attempting to say that the allegations are true, just that he heard about them and that they would be in a coming mailer, and that he heard that "the mug shots are gold." Since Roger Byrge is a public figure, Campfield repeating secondhand information on his blog does not constitute meeting an actual malice standard since Campfield did not attempt to give false evidence as to the validity of the rumors in question per Milkovich v. Lorain Journal.
The sad part of all of this really is that Roger Byrge is being taken advantage of. His attorney or attorneys know that he has no legal claim for libel, but they will gladly take his money.