Court won’t review Kennedy assassination libel case
U.S. SUPREME COURT–The U.S. Supreme Court declined in mid-May to review the California Supreme Court’s November 1998 ruling that members of the news media cannot rely on the “neutral report” privilege when they republish defamatory statements concerning a private figure, even if they have obtained them from an authoritative source.
The California Supreme Court refused to apply the neutral report privilege to a private figure in a case involving a man who was implicated in the murder of Robert Kennedy by the Globe, a national weekly newspaper. Khalid Khawar sued the newspaper in 1989 after it published a story that reported on allegations contained in a book by former CIA agent Robert Morrow. The book claimed that the Shah of Iran’s secret police collaborated with the Mafia to carry out the 1968 Kennedy assassination.
Khawar was a photojournalist at the time and was working at Kennedy’s political rally on assignment for a Pakistani periodical. Khawar alleged that the Globe defamed him by printing both the article on Morrow’s book and a photograph from the book enlarged and illustrated with an arrow pointing to Khawar and identifying him as Kennedy’s assassin.
The neutral report privilege, recognized in only a few jurisdictions, provides immunity from liability for the republication of defamatory statements as long as the statements were made about public figures or public officials by authoritative sources.
In refusing to allow the Globe to assert the neutral report privilege, the California Supreme Court noted that “the very existence of the privilege as a matter of constitutional law is uncertain.” The California Supreme Court declined to decide the question of whether state or federal constitutional principles mandate the recognition of a neutral report privilege for republished statements about public figures or public officials. (Globe Int’l, Inc. v. Khawar; Media Counsel: Anthony Glassman, Beverly Hills; Amy Hogue, Los Angeles)