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Can a clearly marked satirical article claiming someone said something (which they did not) that would seriously damage the person's reputation be considered libel? For example, if Biden actually said what this Babylon Bee article "claims," it would certainly harm his reputation. Could that article be considered libelous?

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  • @BlueDogRanch Yes, i think so. So a similar article claiming that someone who isn't a "public person" said that would likely be libel?
    – Someone
    Jun 21 at 4:42
  • @Someone A defamatory statement must be false. If "Biden actually said what the article claims he said" then the article would be true. The Babylon Bee would have the defence of truth - Biden wouldn't prevail in court, if it got that far.
    – Lag
    Jun 21 at 12:14
  • @Lag sorry, my question wasn't very clear. O was asking what would happen if Biden did not say it but that article was published but not marked as satire.
    – Someone
    Jun 21 at 14:23
  • @Someone your question is about a "clearly marked satirical article" and now you say "not marked as satire." which do you intend?
    – Esther
    Jun 21 at 17:18
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    @Someone as stated in the linked question, if it is obviously satire from the way it's written, it may still be considered satire. If it isn't, it's just a false news article and follows all the other rules for libel.
    – Esther
    Jun 21 at 19:14

1 Answer 1

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Something labeled, and indeed intended, as satire can be defamation if

  1. people believe that the statements made are in fact true of the person concerned (the subject), or that the satire implies such statements about subject; and

  2. the statements about the subject made or implied in the satire are in fact false; and

  3. such statements tend to harm the reputation of the subject.

Satire can be, and has been, used as a cover for pointed statements about the subject, and in some cases such statements can constitute libel (or slander).

In the US a libel plaintiff would have the additional burdens of:

  1. showing actual damage, or else showing that the statements fell into one of the limited categories of libel per se; and
  2. If the plaintiff is a public official or public figure, showing actual malice under the rule of Times v Sullivan.

Those burdens exist in every US libel or defamation action, whether a satire is used or not.

That something is labeled as or treated as a satire may indicate that it is not to be believed. That might go to the intention of the person or entity making the statement. It might also go to whether it is reasonable for people to take the statements as factual. But satire can be used as a thin cover for a factual statement. If (in a given case) it is being so used, or if people might well believe that it is, it can be defamatory.

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