Washington Law Review


Allen D. Israel


William Taskett's advertising business had suffered serious financial setbacks which caused him to seek statutory corporate dissolution. Believing that his affairs had been put in order, he left the state for an extended vacation. Because his whereabouts were unknown to his unsatisfied creditors, which included several prominent Seattle businesses, KING Broadcasting Company decided that his "disappearance" was newsworthy, and made it the subject of a television news story. Taskett brought suit against KING for libel, alleging that its story had depicted him as a "thief and a swindler." Relying upon the controlling Washington authority of Miller v. Argus Publishing Co., the trial court granted KING a summary judgment dismissing the action. Miller recognized a conditional privilege for publishers and broadcasters in defamation actions arising-out of any publication involving a matter of public interest, which could be defeated only by a showing that the defendant had published with "actual malice." Taskett appealed. Relying upon the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Washington Supreme Court reversed. Held: When a publication concerns a subject of public interest and the substance makes the danger to reputation apparent, a private individual may recover in a defamation action against a publisher or broadcaster only upon a showing that the defendant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, that the publication was false or would create a materially false impression. If the plaintiff cannot show "actual malice," however, recovery will be limited to actual damages. Taskett v. KING Broadcasting Co., 86 Wn. 2d 439, 546 P.2d 81 (1976).

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