A Guide Through the Legal Jungle Trivia Question
In 1995, the National Examiner newspaper ran a headline relating to the O.J. Simpson murder trial entitled “COPS THINK KATO DID IT!”. The headline may have suggested that the police suspected Brian “Kato” Kaelin, Simpson’s infamous houseguest, of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. However, the actual story which appeared in the paper seventeen pages later discussed Kaelin’s alleged perjury. Kaelin sued the paper for defamation. In whose favor did the court ultimately rule?
- Kaelin, because the headline was based on mere conjecture and hearsay, and not on any factual allegation.
- Kaelin,because the headline could falsely convey to readers that Kaelin had been accused of the murders.
- The newspaper, because all news reporting is protected by the First Amendment.
- The newspaper, because Kaelin was in fact accused of perjury by investigators and truth is an absolute defense to defamation.
The correct answer is B. The National Examiner tried to get the case dismissed but the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that Kaelin had a valid defamation claim and had the right to a trial on the matter. Even though the story itself was accurate, the headline did not mention perjury and was seventeen pages removed from the actual story. A reader of the headline might believe that Kaelin was a suspect in the murders. Kaelin and the paper later settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
(Thanks to Miguel Harvey, 2009 JD Candidate, Georgetown University Law Center, for his contribution to this trivia question.)