CALIFORNIA — In late September, after nine years of litigation, a journalist was back in U.S. District Court in San Francisco defending herself in the retrial of a libel suit brought against her by a prominent psychoanalyst.
Writer Janet Malcolm was sued for libel by Jeffrey Masson after she wrote an article about the psychoanalyst published in a 1983 issue of The New Yorker magazine. In the article Masson was quoted as stating that he would turn the Sigmund Freud Archives into a “place of sex, women, fun” and that he was like an “intellectual gigolo.”
Masson contended that a total of five quotes attributed to him in Malcolm’s article had been altered or fabricated and libeled him.
In June 1991 a jury in U.S. District Court in San Francisco returned a verdict against Malcolm for libel, but deadlocked on the amount of damages Masson should receive. After three days of deliberations, U.S. District Judge Eugene Lynch dismissed the jury. In July 1991 both parties asked the judge for a retrial.
The New Yorker was dropped as a defendant in the case after the original jury found that the magazine was not liable. Malcolm is now the sole defendant.
The retrial will feature a debate among journalism expert witnesses about Malcolm’s controversial practice of “compression” of quotes, in which Malcolm combined a series of quotes into a single setting, reported the New York Times.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case in 1991, ordering that it be sent to a jury to determine whether the altered quotes convey the same meaning as the words the speaker used. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that alteration of quotations is not necessarily proof of actual malice.
(Masson v. Malcolm; Media Counsel: Gary Bostwick, Santa Monica)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.