Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cindy Sheehan - A "limited purpose public figure". Deal with it.

In mass media law, there are a set of legal distinctions regarding public figures, i.e.- those people who by intent or circumstance are thrust into the public spotlight. "General Purpose" public figures, about whom just about anything may be said, implied, or inferred, as long as no actual malice is present, are those individuals who, by their chosen occupation or avocation, effectively live in the spotlight 24/7. Movie stars, politicians, etc..

An archived CNN Online article has this to say about public figures:
In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Supreme Court stated that "those who by reason of the notoriety of their achievements or the vigor and success with which they seek the public's attention" are classified as public figures under the First Amendment.

Then there are "limited purpose" public figures, those who "have thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved." By voluntarily propelling themselves into such controversies, the limited purpose public figures invite attention and comment.

Ref: FindLaw Forum: Are the Bush twins 'public figures'?

Under the definitions of Mass Media Law, Ms. Cindy Sheehan, in making herself the spokesperson for any number of anti-war causes, has clearly established herself as a limited-purpose public figure. She voluntary thrust herself into the spotlight, and not just temporarily. She continues to use her temporary fame as a bully pulpit and activist soap box. Thus she has, by implication, invited scrutiny. Any half-way competent journalist would want to give a proper context to Sheehan's shrill tongue-wagging by examing her past history, other activism, statements, etc..

There is much shrill back-and-froth, er, forth about Michelle Malkin "mentioning" the fact that Sheehan's husband had filed for divorce. Malkin's fairly innocuous comments are being lambasted as meanspirited, intrusive, and muckraking. If you read her post, the comments are actually milquetoast at best, and made almost in passing. Hard akin to the often vicious savaging she is receiving as a result.

Cindy Sheehan was not libeled by Malkin. The essential facts of the story are true. Morever, by insisting on maintaining her moment in the sun for as long as possible, Sheehan has, by law and convention, made the pending divorce fair game. Not only that, the divorce filing, like a marriage certificate, is a matter of public record.

It is newsworthy? Used in the context of showing that Sheehan, by her actions, is alienating not only a broad swath of Americans, but her own family as well...yes. By all implications, this divorce filing occured as a direct result of C. Sheehan's activism. And since her actions are still at the forefront of media attention, the reactions/fallout (both personal AND political) are thus also newsworthy.

So for those who feel they need to spew vile epithets at Malkin, or anyone else who dares poke into the sacrosanct Mother Sheehan's background, here's a thought...

Give it a rest. It's news, boys and girls.

h/t to Patterico