Wisconsin Constitution Party Chairman Riley Hood threatened to sue Independent Political Report (IPR) last week over publication of an April Fools’ Day article claiming Hood married former California Constitution Party Chairman Don Grundmann in a same-sex ceremony.
“I will start to searching for a lawyer to sue you people for defamation of character,” wrote Hood in IPR comments, “You faggots have nothing better to do. I have been married for 16 years, to a woman whose name is Janice.”
IPR contributor Jed Ziggler says he wrote the piece as a “satire, no different than any Onion article.” As is clear to IPR’s regular readers, the article is meant to satirize Hood and Grundmann’s passionate opposition to homosexuality, especially same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, others may have perceived it differently. It is not marked as satire on the site nor focused on anyone the public would readily recognize.
Still, due to the nature of their statements and positions within the Constitution Party, it is argued that Hood and Grundmann are both public figures. This does not mean they have no legal recourse for libel The Supreme Court has provided guidance for such a situation in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell.
In Hustler, the Court determined the Reverend Jerry Falwell could not recover from Hustler Magazine for a satirical interview it published—insinuating Falwell had sexual relations with his mother—because Falwell could not prove Hustler Magazine published with actual malice. The Court explained, to succeed in such a tort, a public figure must show (1) damage to reputation, (2) false statement of fact, and (3) actual malice.
The extent of damage to the reputations of Hood and Grundmann cannot be known at this time. It is unquestionable that the IPR article presents a false statement of fact. However, whether there is actual malice here is suspect.
According to IPR owner Warren Redlich, who is also an attorney, it “would be particularly difficult [to prove actual malice] since I had never heard of Riley Hood before. I recognize the name Grundmann but I don’t remember why.”
Grundmann, who frequently comments at IPR, has said he has no interest in pursuing a lawsuit over the article.