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Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc.

501 U.S. 496, 111 S.Ct. 2419, 115 L.Ed.2d 447, 18 Med.L.Rptr. 2241 (1991)

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Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc.

United States Supreme Court

501 U.S. 496, 111 S.Ct. 2419, 115 L.Ed.2d 447, 18 Med.L.Rptr. 2241 (1991)

Facts

Jeffrey Masson (plaintiff) was a psychoanalytic scholar and a professor of Sanskrit and Indian studies. Masson became the project director for the Sigmund Freud Archives in 1980. However, Masson shortly became disillusioned with Freudian psychology. After expressing his opinions of Freud publicly in 1981, Masson’s job at the Archives was terminated. Janet Malcolm, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, conducted a series of interviews with Masson. Malcolm used the interviews to produce an article for The New Yorker, which was later turned into a book and published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (Knopf) (defendant). Malcolm’s portrayal of Masson was unflattering. Malcolm’s article included many long quotations attributed to Masson. Masson sued New Yorker Magazine, Inc. (New Yorker) (defendant) and Knopf for libel, claiming that all but one of Malcom’s quotations were fabricated. In 40 hours of taped interviews, no statements identical to the article’s quotations appear. Because Masson was a “public figure” for purposes of libel law, the defendants could be liable only if it published the false statements with actual malice. The defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment, finding that the passages in question were either substantially true or one of a number of possible rational interpretations of a conversation or event. Masson appealed. Although the court of appeals assumed that Malcolm had deliberately altered the quotations, it held that the alterations could not rise to the level of actual malice, affirming the trial court. Masson appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Kennedy, J.)

Dissent (White, J.)

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