One of the limitations on free speech is defamation — you can’t simply make false and damaging statements about someone else. That said, just because information tends to damage a person’s reputation doesn’t make it defamation. The statement must also be false.
Additionally, the press are afforded some increased legal protections in the interest of reporting the news, and public figures are afforded fewer protections as they thrust themselves into the public eye and invite close scrutiny. Both factors could come into play in Steve Wynn’s defamation against the Associated Press, with the casino mogul claiming the AP reported “false accusations of rape.”
Wynn’s lawsuit centers around a story written by AP reporter Regina Garcia Cano, which relayed information from a police report filed by Halina Kuta. Kuta claimed Wynn raped (and impregnated) her in her Chicago apartment in the early 1970s. (Kuta also sued Wynn in federal court for $4 million.)
“The AP Defendants intentionally chose to incompletely and unfairly describe the Police Report by omitting from the AP Article the additional outrageous, false and inherently improbable accusations found on the face of the Police Report,” the lawsuit claims. “If reported fairly, completely, accurately, and impartially, the Police Report, like the Kuta Lawsuit, is outrageous, false and inherently improbable on its face, and the timing of its filing by Defendant Kuta is extremely suspect.”
Wynn or Lose?
As an initial matter in any defamation lawsuit, Wynn must first prove that the underlying accusations are definitively false. In addition, Wynn must also prove that the defamatory statement “was made with ‘actual malice’ — that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard to whether it was false or not.” This actual-malice standard applies to public figures like Wynn. And although it doesn’t require any actual ill will on the part of the defendant, in this case Cano and the AP, it does require the defendant to be aware that the statement is either false or very likely false. In this case, Wynn could prove reckless disregard if he can show that the AP had “serious doubts as to the truth of [the] publication.”
This makes Wynn’s a very tough hill to climb, legally speaking. Unless he can disprove Kuta claims and also prove Cano and the AP likely knew the allegations were false, he’ll have a hard time winning his case. The AP may be insulated as well, if it’s reporting focused solely on the police report, which does exist and is likely a public record.