A local newspaper that defendant was the publisher of ran a front-page story saying that plaintiff, a judicial candidate who was under investigation for bribery, had used dirty tricks.
"Malice" in the ordinary sense of the term is not enough for actual malice, nor is profit seeking. The New York Times rule must be applied. At a minimum, reckless disregard is needed, as defined in St. Amant. However, these concepts cannot be defined in singular definitions. They must be built on a case-by-case basis.
Public discussion of the qualifications of a candidate for elective office is probably the strongest possible case for application of the New York Times rule, as vigorous reportage of political campaigns is necessary for democratic institutions to function optimally.
There must be sufficient evidence to find that the defendant had a "high degree of awareness of probable falsity." It is not enough that the defendant did not investigate, even when a reasonable person would have done so. However, the fact that defendant purposefully avoided the truth is sufficient to establish reckless disregard.
While the court of appeals found that the jury may have found facts that established reckless disregard, it should have been decided, as it is evident, that the jury must have found certain facts. Among these are the falsity of defendant's witnesses' testimony, that plaintiff knew defendant took a lie detector test, and that defendant refused to listen to the tape of an interview of a key witness. This purposeful avoidance establishes reckless disregard and actual malice.
Failure to investigate before publishing, even when a reasonably prudent person would have done so, is not sufficient to establish reckless disregard.