Town of Smithville vs. Smithville Newspaper

Using IRAC method analyze and discuss the issue below:
Jones was the attorney for the Town of Smithville. He filed a defamation lawsuit against a newspaper that served the Smithville area and against the writer of that newspaper’s Town Crier column. Jones based his case on statements that appeared in the column. The writer of the column referred to Jones as a “political hatchet man” and as “one of the biggest powers behind the throne in local government.” The writer also asserted that “Jones pulls the strings” and raised the question whether Jones was “leading Smithville to destruction.” What arguments should the defendants make in an effort to avoid defamation liability? Should Jones win his case?
Include two scholarly sources


The issue is whether Town Crier and the Smithville newspaper used defamatory words towards Jones when they referred to him as a political hatchet man, responsible for pulling strings and one of the “biggest” powers behind the throne in local government.


Defamation is a statement that injures the reputation of another individual and includes libel (written) and slander (spoken) (Reisman, 2022). To prove prima facie defamation, the plaintiff must show four things: The statements made were false; the publication or communication was to a third person; there was fault amounting to at least negligence; the subject of the defamation suffered damages or some harm (Berkelman, 2021). For a publicly-known figure to succeed in a defamation claim, they must show that the false defaming statement was said with actual malice, that is, “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not” (Schultz & Vile, 2005, p. 7). There are three defenses to defamation lawsuits; complete defense, absolute privilege, and qualified privilege. The First Amendment protects newspaper’s statements about public officials’ conduct unless “actual malice” was involved.


As an attorney for the Town of Smithville, Jones is a public figure. Town Crier had that privilege, according to the First Amendment, to criticize the plaintiff because he is a public figure. In proving a prima facie case, Jones would find it hard to substantiate that the terms “a political hatchet man,” “one of the biggest powers behind the throne…” and the one that “pulls the strings” were false. The defendants can argue that the question of whether Jones was “leading Smithville to destruction” was an opinion because it is allowed on public figures. The defendants can also claim that the statement was a matter of public interest and that they reasonably believed publishing them was in the Smithville town’s public interest.


The defendants made their statements against a public figure in Smithville, which was in the public interest. The writer’s question on whether Jones was leading the town to destruction was an opinion, neither false nor true. The First Amendment allows such statements if directed to public figures unless Jones can establish “actual malice.” Jones should not win this case because it is not possible to prove actual malice in the terms “power,” “hatchet,” and “pulls the strings,” or in the question of whether Jones is leading the town to destruction.

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Berkelman, N. (2021). First Amendment Protections for Anonymous & Defamatory Internet Posts. NDL Rev.96, 381.

Reisman, N. R. (2022). Commentary on: Fake News, Defamation, and Online Reviews and Their Potential Devastating Consequences for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Schultz, D. A., & Vile, J. R. (2005). The encyclopedia of civil liberties in America. Sharpe Reference.

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