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Libel in Fact Magazine: The Legal Case So Far

Recapping the trial so far...

The Personality Analyst is returning from a month-long break. Before the break, I had been discussing personality judgments in the context of the Goldwater v. Ginzburg libel trial. As I begin my posts again, I will briefly recap the discussion so far.  Next week, I will continue with the saga of the trial itself.

Here is a quick summary of what has been covered so far and why:

What was Goldwater v. Ginzburg (the Fact libel trial) about?

In 1965, Senator Barry Goldwater accused Ralph Ginzburg of libeling him. Ginzburg was the publisher of Fact magazine, The case came to trial in 1968.

Why are you writing about it?

Four reasons:

  1. I have been discussing judgments of personality in my posts and libel represents a legal limit as to how one person judges another.
  2. In the summer of 2009, then-Governor Sarah Palin's attorneys accused certain bloggers of libeling her. I wanted to examine a case of proven libel from the past and its distinguishing features.
  3. Among libel trials, none has as much to do with psychology as Goldwater v. Ginzburg. Mr. Ginzburg's approach in Fact magazine was to analyze then-Senator Goldwater's mind so as to prove the Senator was unfit for public office.
  4. We still live with the legal and ethical repercussions of the trial today. I will elaborate how and why in the coming weeks.

What led up to the trial?

In the summer of 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater had received the Republican nomination for the presidency. Shortly after his nomination, Ralph Ginzburg, the publisher of Fact magazine, and his editor, Warren Boroson, set out to analyze the "Unconscious of a Conservative." Their special issue of Fact magazine contained two articles about the Senator. The first provided a psychological analysis of the Senator's personality. The second was a poll of thousands of psychiatrists who were asked to comment on the Senator's mental stability. In the aftermath of Mr. Goldwater's loss in the presidential election, the Senator claimed to have been libeled by the magazine.

What have previous posts in this series covered?

I have been writing about the trial for the past six months. Among the more popular previous posts are these five (arranged from earliest to latest):

• Was Sarah Palin's Character Defamed over July 4th? - In this post, I discussed the warning Palin's attorneys gave media outlets in 2009: They claimed the then-Governor was being libeled, and demanded that national outlets stop spreading (what her lawyers characterized as) untruths.

• Libel in Fact...the 1189 Psychiatrists - This post described the Fact magazine poll that asked practicing psychiatrists of the time what they thought of Senator Goldwater's personality and his mental stability.

• Libel in Fact: Did Senator Goldwater Suffer from a Nervous Breakdown? - Ralph Ginzburg made much of reports of the time that the Senator had suffered from more than one nervous breakdown. This post examines some of the issues involved in determining the accuracy of the news accounts.

• Libel in Fact: Pol vs. Poll - During the libel trial, Burns Roper, a highly respected polling expert of the time, provided expert testimony as to whether the Fact poll was (in contemporary parlance) "fair and balanced."

• Libel in Fact: Aspiring to Rational Judgments Using DSM-I - One of the issues the psychiatrists faced in analyzing Senator Goldwater's mental stability was that, despite the psychiatrists' expert training, they relied on a highly problematic diagnostic system of the time: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Version I.

Next week, I will pick up where I left off at the close of 2009: Writing about the conclusion of the libel trial itself, and such issues as where free speech ends and defamation of character begins.



Copyright © 2010 by John D. Mayer