Recent examples:

Would either of those instances qualify as character assassination?

What legally constitutes character assassination?

  • Actually verbal assaults are crimes in some jurisdictions in the US. How ever what you are talking about is reporting on what other people have claimed about someone which is protected by the first amendment. If the claim is about you then you can pursue slander case for a false verbal claim, and libel if it is a written down. Dec 20 '13 at 15:32

The United States has always been reluctant to abridge freedom of the speech and freedom of the press due to the First Amendment, which guarantees those freedoms.

However, parties in the United States can still be liable for libel or slander if their statements meet the following criteria:

  • The accusation made was false
  • The accuser knew it to be false or displayed reckless disregard as to the truth of the statement
  • The accuser made the false claim with intent to harm the accused

In practice, it is very hard to successfully sue for defamation because you have to demonstrate knowledge and intent. In the absence of mind-reading technology, that usually can't be done convincingly. For example, when Ariel Sharon sued Time Magazine for accusing him of helping plan the Sabra and Shatila massacre, he won in Israeli courts, but not in American courts. Though the American jury found that Time's accusation was false, they could not find that Time "acted out of malice."

  • So basically what you're saying is - it's only bad if the accusation is false? Why does it matter if it's false or true? And what do you do in controversial topics where there is no true or false?
    – Shahar
    Dec 20 '13 at 2:15
  • 3
    The burden of proof would be to demonstrate that the claim is false. If you can't show conclusively it's false, nobody's liable. Also, if you look at the first sentence of the wikipedia article, you find that establishing the truth as a defense against libel charges goes back to before the US was actually founded. Americans are, I think rightly, reluctant to infringe on freedom of the press, so libel laws are narrowly defined.
    – Publius
    Dec 20 '13 at 2:17
  • 1
    Didnt realize i failed to upvote this the first time.
    – user1873
    Jan 24 '14 at 23:51
  • 1
    @Shahar - If I tell people about you doing something bad, it's not my fault for saying it, it's your fault for doing the thing. Jan 11 '17 at 17:25

There is no such thing under the law as "character assassination" under the law. The concept is a purely rhetorical one with no legal content. There only only "defamation" which is a form of lying about someone in a manner that damages their reputation. (The U.S. is much more hostile to defamation lawsuits than many other countries such as the U.K. and France.)

A small number of U.S. states have recognized a privacy tort known as "false light" where statements imply or state something that is misleading and intentionally causes emotional harm, but two-thirds of states have held that this violates the first amendment and rejected the tort, and many other states have tough restrictions on the tort due to first amendment concerns. There is a split of authority between the federal circuits in the U.S. over whether these torts are constitutional. The 10th Circuit, for example, has limited torts like false light to the same extent as defamation lawsuits, while the 5th Circuit, for example, has allowed such claims.

It is also possible to contractually agree not to say anything disparging about someone whether it is true or not, and if such a contractual agreement exists (or is implied in law from a relationship such as serving as someone's lawyer or public relations officer) there could be liability for breaching that contractual relationship.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .