DSK Accuser's Libel Suit

My old editor Erik Wemple doesn't see the Post escaping the justice with a "public figure" defense:


For the purposes of a libel proceeding, public figures are people whose professional choices put them directly in the public eye -- meaning visible government leaders and celebrities. Which of those is the DSK accuser? 

Then there's the "limited purpose" public figure, which is perhaps the category to which the commentators above are referring. A "limited purpose" public figure applies to people who "thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved." What judge will rule that accusing someone of rape meets this standard? 

Another consideration: As the doctrine's name implies, a "limited purpose" public figure is treated as such only for the purpose of allegations about his or her role in that particular controversy. The New York Post's allegedly defamatory statements are not about the DSK incident -- they're about the accuser's personal background. So just because someone gets ensnared in a public matter, there's no "open season" for all kinds of nasty, baseless reporting about the person. 

To close out the doctrine, there's an "involuntary public figure" -- someone who becomes prominent via unintentional association with a big event. In 1985, for example, a federal appeals court ruled that an air traffic controller on duty during a crash qualified as an involuntary public figure. Only in "exceedingly rare." cases are courts to certify a plaintiff as an involuntary public figure.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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