The judgments of character people make are sometimes fair and accurate and sometimes not. Either way, judging character is part of a civil society. When judgments are false, are made recklessly or maliciously, and are public, they are prohibited by law.
The jury in the Goldwater v. Ginzburg libel trial (see post for background), began their deliberations after departing the courtroom at 10:45 AM, Friday morning, May 24th, 1968. Half a day later, as midnight approached, the jury of nine men and three women were still at work deciding whether Fact magazine's report on Senator Goldwater's personality was libelous.
The critical and demeaning tone of Mr. Ginzburg's essay on the Senator's mental status in Fact was probably an issue, as was the bias in the magazine's poll of psychiatrists. Mr. Ginzburg's attorney had appeared to make light of the magazine's responsibility to conduct its poll in a scientific fashion; looking back from several decades later, that seemed to be a miscalculation on the part of the legal team.
Whatever the issues the jury considered, the members worked for much of the day trying to decide whether Fact magazine's treatment of Senator Goldwater's personality was sufficiently truthful and accurate.
Friday, midnight, passed. The jury re-entered the courtroom briefly at 12:15 AM Saturday morning and asked for further instructions regarding punitive damages.
Then, at approximately 1 AM Saturday morning, 13 hours after their deliberations began, the jury returned to the courtroom with their verdict. By that time, only six or so spectators remained in the courtroom.
Judge Tyler asked the jury foreman, Gustave H. Danitz, to read the decision.
Mr. Danitz read "in a clear voice" that Mr. Goldwater had been the victim of libel -- deliberate, malicious, defamation of his character. The 12 jurors awarded punitive damages in the amount of $50,000 against Fact Magazine, Inc., and $25,000 against Mr. Ginzburg as publisher.
Smaller compensatory damages were made of $1.00 each against Mr. Ginzburg, Fact, and Mr. Boroson (the managing editor). Later reports indicated that the one dollar awards reflected the jury's belief that Mr. Goldwater had suffered no financial damage from the libel.
When the verdict was read, Mr. Goldwater expressed his feelings of vindication; Mr. Ginzburg expressed his feelings of disappointment. The case, said Mr. Ginzburg's lawyer, would be appealed as quickly as possible.
The Goldwater v. Ginzburg trial placed limits on how a psychological analysis of a public figure could be conducted. Whether or not you agree with the verdict, the jury decided that only a certain degree of negativity, bias, and departure from accepted scientific methods would be allowed. The jury's message: More balance was needed than the Fact magazine reports had shown.
Next week: The Appeal...
Burks, E. C. (1968, May 24th). Ginzburg accused of tossing ‘muck'. The New York Times, p. 94.
Burks, E. C. (1968, May 25th). Goldwater wins $75,000 in libel action. The New York Times, p. 1, 22.
Edits: + 12 hours, light copy edits
Copyright (c) 2010 by John D. Mayer