Kendall Jenner v. Us Weekly: Is It Illegal to Publish a False Quote?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 19, 2015 4:16 PM

Stop putting words in my mouth! Is it legal to quote someone for something that they never said?

Kendall Jenner wants to know. The reality-TV star is upset that Us Weekly quoted her as saying about her father Bruce Jenner: "He's a wonderful man. And just because he's changing shoes now, so to speak, doesn't make him less wonderful. I will always love my dad, whether he's a man or a woman." Kendall claims she never said that, and wants to know whether it's illegal for a magazine to publish a false quote.

So, what's the answer?

Defamation Explained

While Us Weekly may not face criminal charges for publishing the quote, Kendall could have a potential case for defamation.

The elements of defamation, for both libel and slander, are:

  • A statement. Is the defamatory statement slander or libel? Slander applies to oral statements. Libel applies to written statements. In this case, Kendall would technically be suing for libel.
  • Publication. A statement is not defamatory unless a third party saw or heard it. A third party would be anyone other than the person making the statement and the person the statement was about.
  • Injury. For a statement to rise to the level of defamation, it must damage the subject of the statement (usually their reputation). Saying that someone has venereal disease rises to the level of defamation. Sometimes, statements, although false, don't really affect the person they're talking about, so it's not defamatory.

For example: Bob wrote, "Tina is short because she's only 4 feet tall." However, Tina is actually 5 feet tall. Did this false statement really hurt Tina? Probably not. It wouldn't be defamatory.

So What About Us?

The Us Weekly statement quoted Kendall as saying her dad is changing from a man to a woman. Assuming that the statement is a false quote, is it bad enough to damage Kendall's reputation? Again, probably not. Other than having her dad possibly mad at her, Kendall's reputation is unlikely to be damaged by this statement.

Also, for public figures and celebrities, the standard for defamation is higher. This group of people would also have to prove that the statement was made with "actual malice." Actual malice is when the person making the statement knew it was false or had reckless disregard for the truth.

Is that what happened here? The question may be moot. Us Weekly has already retracted the article and apologized to Kendall.

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