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Celebrity lawsuit puts focus on defamation specifics, defenses

You've likely heard of Bill O'Reilly.

In fact, you might have been a regular viewer of his long-time television talk show. Or, conversely, you flipped the channel the moment it came on.

It's hardly a controversial statement to note that O'Reilly was -- and continues to be -- well, controversial.

One reason why that is so is duly pointed out in a recent Forbes article. That publication notes that O'Reilly is "an extremely public figure with a litany of private multi-million sexual harassment settlements in his past."

That background will essentially guarantee a continuous high profile and unchecked front-page news treatment.

Here's some confirmation of that: the former Fox TV host recently filed a $5 million defamation lawsuit alleging that a third party made false and malicious comments "aimed at hurting O'Reilly and his family."

In a nutshell, O'Reilly contends that a former politician falsely posted on Facebook that O'Reilly sexually harassed that individual's ex-partner. The post additionally states that O'Reilly thereafter sought her aid in uncovering negative information that could discredit another woman accusing him of sexual misconduct.

O'Reilly vigorously disputes the claims, calling them "completely contrived, false and defamatory."

Although it is presently impossible to state whether the television personality will prevail in the litigation, Forbes makes two instructive points regarding the case and defamation law in general, namely these:

  • Social media is "relatively uncharted legal territory" that can inject an added element of complexity into a defamation case; and
  • Public figures have a higher threshold of proof to clear when seeking to hold others legally liable for allegedly making defamatory statements

O'Reilly is unquestionably a public figure, and would have to prove "actual malice" on the part of an accused wrongdoer to prevail in his lawsuit.

We will keep readers updated on his case.

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