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Bending over backwards Robert Sheridan bobsheridan Sullivan v NY Times is the leading case governing whether "public figures" from the local sheriff to the U.S. President, to a screen star, can sue the newspaper (or broadcaster)that defames them.

What it holds is that a public figure cannot successfully sue for libel/slander unless not only is the statement untrue (that goes with the territory) but that the publisher knew it or acted in reckless disregard by not checking, which is called "malice."

Not sure how that answers our question, but if you want to understand the law of defamation, that's a good place to start.

There have been loads of cases where the publisher (reporter or newspaper or broadcaster) in good faith thought one thing but the facts turned out, on closer inspection, to be somewhat different. Since newspeak has only a few categories, they were getting sued for the category-buster cases where what seemed true at first glance turned out not to be the case. Private citizens, unlike public figures, don't have to prove "malice" in the NYTimes v. Sullivan sense. So they were collecting. If it was false they could sue.

So just because the cops said they arrested a bad guy didn't make him a bad guy. The press had to protect itself by saying "an alleged bad-guy," "an alleged burglar," etc. Then if it turned out the burglar owned the house but forgot the key, he couldn't sue successfully.


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