Does Freedom of Speech Include Satirical Cartoons of Public Figures? Why.. Yes.


Does Freedom of Speech Include Satirical Cartoons of Public Figures? Why.. Yes.

8 November 2010 at 10:20:08 PM

Earlier this evening, a public figure approached me, spitting mad. I had created a cartoon to represent a situation I think is not an appropriate use of tax money, and he said that he thought it made him look like a buffoon because of the use of the bowler hat. I told him I certainly did not intend that as the point of the cartoon;  I did it as it was a visual way to point up what, to me, is not only a conflict of interest but inappropriate use of taxpayer money. He told me to remove it immediately or face legal action. He also told me he had no problem with any of the information contained in the post, only the picture. I told him I would consider it.

This is me considering it.

First, is a person who decides to get appointed by putting his name forward to a local government board which can make recommendations about taxpayer money a public figure? I would say so.  When that person is also prominent at government board meetings, part of the proceedings, prepares budgets and delivers reports, he is an appointed public officlal.  From Wikipedia.

Public figure is a legal term applied in the context of defamation actions (libel and slander) as well as invasion of privacy. A public figure (such as a politician, celebrity, or business leader) cannot base a lawsuit on incorrect harmful statements unless there is proof that the writer or publisher acted with malice (knowledge or reckless disregard for the truth). The burden of proof is higher in the case of a public figure.

The Texas Open Meetings act refers to both elected and appointed public officials. (BOTH being public officials)

Certainly cartoons have been used down through the history of this country. From Birth of a Nation: The First Federal Congress:  About George Washington

Someone who disapproved of this virtual deification of Washington- probably an enemy he had made in his political and military career- satirized the spirit of the occasion. On the day after his election, two weeks before his ancestral entrance into New York City, a cartoon entitled "The Entry" was hawked on the streets of the capital. In it, Washington rode a jackass, led by his aide David Humphreys who changed hosannahs. A couplet stated:

The glorious time has come to pass

When David shall conduct an Ass

Although the cartoon must have shocked New Yorkers almost as much as it did those who in the succeeding two centuries have apparently destroyed all copies of it, its powerful message reminds us that even George Washington was not above the criticism of his contemporaries.

Cartoons are the acid test of the First Amendment.

Cartoons are the acid test of the First Amendment. They push the boundaries of free speech by the very qualities that have endangered them: Cartoons are hard to defend. They strain reason and logic. They can’t say “on the other hand.” And for as long as cartoons exist, Americans can be assured that we still have the right and privilege to express controversial opinions and offend powerful interests.

(The picture on this page, incidentally, is from a cartoonist portraying Abraham Lincoln as a raccoon.)

What do the courts say about this type of thing?

Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoon portraying George Washington as an ass down to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate. Nast's castigation of the Tweed Ring, Walt McDougall's characterization of Presidential candidate James G. Blaine's banquet with the millionaires at Delmonico's as "The Royal [p55] Feast of Belshazzar," and numerous other efforts have undoubtedly had an effect on the course and outcome of contemporaneous debate. Lincoln's tall, gangling posture, Teddy Roosevelt's glasses and teeth, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's jutting jaw and cigarette holder have been memorialized by political cartoons with an effect that could not have been obtained by the photographer or the portrait artist. From the viewpoint of history, it is clear that our political discourse would have been considerably poorer without them.

. Although I kind of hate it that this is a Hustler magazine cartoon free speech case about Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell, there are some relevant parts in the Supreme Court decision regarding parodies.

An "outrageousness" standard thus runs afoul of our longstanding refusal to allow damages to be awarded because the speech in question may have an adverse emotional impact on the audience. See NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886, 910 (1982) ("Speech does not lose its protected character . . . simply because it may embarrass others or coerce them into action"). And, as we stated in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978):

[T]he fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker's opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection. [p56] For it is a central tenet of the First Amendment that the government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas.

Id. at 745-746. See also Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576, 592 (1969) ("It is firmly settled that . . . the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers").

Is the fact that the gentleman in question had some distress over the cartoon enough?

We conclude that public figures and public officials may not recover for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of publications such as the one here at issue without showing, in addition, that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with "actual malice," i.e., with knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard as to whether or not it was true. This is not merely a "blind application" of the New York Times standard, see Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 390 (1967); it reflects our considered judgment that such a standard is necessary to give adequate "breathing space" to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. [p57]

More on distress from the appeals court ruling previous to the Supreme Court one.

Political satire and parody aim to distress. This genre of commentary depends upon distortion and discomfiture for its effect. The best political humor may be in bad taste. The cartoonist's nightmare may be that the intended victim of all his insult and ridicule indeed fails to suffer emotional distress, but instead finds the whole thing merely funny and calls up the cartoonist, not to complain, but to ask for the original. See Barnes, Lovebombing, The New Republic, October 13, 1986 at 12.

Nothing could be more threatening to the long tradition of satiric commentary than a cause of action on the part of politicians for emotional distress. Satire is particularly relevant to political debate because it tears down facades, deflates stuffed shirts, and unmasks hypocrisy. By cutting through the constraints imposed by pomp and ceremony, it is a form of irreverence as welcome as fresh air. While Hustler 's base parody is unworthy of this or any tradition, the precedent created by the cause of action against this defendant may one day come to stifle the finer forms of this genre.....

These few examples illustrate the tradition of satiric comment. Much of the comment went overboard, and much would be considered libelous today. For all its clatter and hubbub, however, it has not undermined this country's profound respect for presidents and priests. But it has enhanced political debate. Nothing is more thoroughly democratic than to have the high-and-mighty lampooned and spoofed. An observant electorate may also gain by watching the reactions of objects of satiric comment, noting those who take themselves seriously and those whose self-perspective is somewhat more relaxed. a bare minimum, the Amendment must protect true speech about political figures. The Supreme Court has recently held that, if a statement deals with a matter of public concern, even a private figure cannot recover in a libel suit without showing its falsity. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps, 106 S.Ct. at 1559. If we now allow public figures to recover for true statements because of wounded sensibilities, we have entered a brave new world of First Amendment jurisprudence....

If the First Amendment protects only speech a jury finds to be generally acceptable, it serves no purpose. No one is sued for expressing pleasing sentiments. Either the First Amendment protects speech that makes someone uncomfortable, or it protects nothing. If the Amendment is to retain its full vitality, it cannot permit a public figure in the political arena to recover for emotionally upsetting speech.

The public figure had no issue what I *said* in the post, only the cartoon.I stand by what is on the cartoon, it is the truth.

From Freedom of Information Foundation Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a public official suing a publication for libel based upon an article about his official conduct in office, must prove constitutional malice, defined as knowing falsehood or reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statement. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

a. Public officials

Most elected and appointed public officials who have substantial influence over matters of government must prove knowing falsehood or reckless disregard.

Therefore, I am not removing the cartoon, which is one expression of my own opinion through freedom of speech, was clearly not meant to defame but rather to make a point based on facts.. and which is completely allowable under the courts, including the Supreme Court.

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