In another recent and unfortunate defamation opinion, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a broadcast television news program may have defamed a televangelist minister by airing a video clip of a portion of the minister’s own sermon. The claim is that the broadcast misled by failing to air additional contextual material to show that the minister was speaking from the perspective of another hypothetical person and not himself, i.e., that he was acting, when he said “I live in a 25-room mansion. I have my own $6 million yacht. I have my own private jet, and I have my own helicopter, and I have 7 luxury automobiles.” The broadcaster later aired an apology stating that the minister’s statement was actually sermonizing about another person and not the minister himself, and was aired out of context, following which the minister sued the broadcaster.
The Ninth Circuit has now reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the minister’s case, finding that he must be given the opportunity to pursue his claim that it was defamatory of the broadcaster to air the minister’s own words about “himself”, without providing context that the minister was acting as if he were someone else. The Ninth Circuit revived the minister’s dismissed case despite the trial court’s factual finding that based on the actual assets the minister is found to enjoy, the allegedly defamatory statements made by the minister about “himself” were substantially true. (Price v. Stossell, ABC et al., 9th Circuit Court of Appeals No. 09-55087, August 24, 2010)