Scottie Pippen is suing a handful of media outlets, for about $9 million, claiming that they defamed him by reporting that he had filed for bankruptcy. In his federal lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Chicago, Scottie claims he never filed for bankruptcy and is not in financial trouble. He says the false reports have hurt his reputation. As my former Bennigan’s co-workers can attest to, no tippin Pippen already has a bad rep, but I digress.
Defamation lawsuits are difficult to win, especially for people like Scottie Pippen.
Let’s assume the bankruptcy reports were wrong. If they were true, then Scottie doesn’t have case and probably wouldn’t have filed the lawsuit. Truth is a defense to defamation, meaning that you can say true things about people and it’s not considered defamation, even if it does hurt their reputation.
So assuming that the reports were wrong, and even assuming that Scottie’s reputation was in fact harmed, it’s still a tough road because he is a public figure. If you’re suing for defamation, you’re in one of two main categories -- either a public or private figure. Most people are not public figures. The public figure category includes celebrities, athletes, and others who are famous for one reason or another, like Paris Hilton or Bill Gates or even someone like a local newscaster.
The difference, when it comes to proving defamation, is that private people only have to prove that they were harmed by the speech. Public figures, on the other hand, have to prove they were harmed AND that the person who made the statement did so with malice. In other words, they have to prove that the person who published the statement knew it was false and published it anyway.
Public figures have less protection. The reason for the discrepancy is that public figures have put themselves out there in the public eye and must expect more things to be said about them, both good and bad. It is assumed that they have a greater ability to right any wrongs by using their status as a public figure to gain access to the media and give their side of the story.
So, Scottie Pippen has to prove that these media outlets published information that they knew was false, or at least that they published with with a reckless disregard for whether it was true or not.
Historically, this is very hard for public figures to prove, and most defamation cases are lost. Even if the news organizations who reported this did so negligently -- by not checking sources, for example -- they likely would not be held responsible for defamation.
So a public figure like Pippen or anyone else is probably fooling themselves by thinking they have a defamation lawsuit. Most people just make idle threats that they aren’t going to back up because they know they are in the wrong. Pippen didn’t feel that way. Maybe he’ll win, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
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