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Application of libel law: Ventura lesson


Application of Libel Law
by Lori Keekley

Students will examine the tenets and defenses of libel while analyzing a recent court case.  The lesson spans two days, but could be combined to fit into one day if needed. Students also will examine how the First Amendment plays a role libel law.

• Students will learn the basic tenets of libel law
• Students will learn the defenses to a libel claim.
• Students will apply both the tenets of libel and defenses to libel.

Common Core State Standards
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning. 
Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1.e
Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.  

100 minutes (two 50-minute classes)

Materials / resources
Article 1:
Star Tribune article to be used for the first day of class
Article 2: Star Tribune article to be used for the second day of class
Article 3: Washington Post article, which is for background
SPLC libel info

Lesson step-by-step
Day 1

1. Introduction — 5 minutes
Situation: An author claimed he had a barfight with “Scruffy Face” in a recent book. He later identified the other participant. The “Scruffy” said this alleged fight harmed his reputation. Who do you think would win in a libel suit?
2. Review — 10 minute
Using the SPLC libel information, please have students describe the following terms:
–The four parts of libel according to the Student Press Law Center?
(Publication, Identification, Harm, Fault)
–What are the defenses to a libel claim?
(Consent, Truth, Privilege, Opinion versus Fact)

3. Read article 1 — 10 minutes
While reading the article, ask students to underline the areas they think might be applicable for the prosecution. Ask them to box what would be helpful for the defense. Students should be able to explain their reasoning. Also, ask students to revisit what they decided from the introductory assignment, which opened the class.

4. Debate preparation — 10 minutes
Split the class in half. Assign half to be the prosecution and the other half the defense. They should formulate arguments for their side.

Students should also look at how the First Amendment might apply in this scenario.

5. Debate — 20 minutes
Ask students to debate the case. They should cite the parts of libel law, defensed to libel law and information from the case.

Day 2
1. Introduction — 5 minutes
As students enter, please ask them to write down as many parts of libel law and defenses to libel they can. After a few minutes have passed, ask students to get their notes and add what was missed in a different pen color.

2. Debate recap — 10 minutes
Ask students from the prosecution to reiterate their main points. Make sure they include the terminology they reviewed. After five minutes, switch and ask the defense to do the same. Ask the class to vote on which side they think should win.

3. Read article 2 — 10 minutes
While reading the article, ask students to underline the areas they were surprised about. Students should be able to explain their reasoning. Also, ask students to revisit what they noted at the beginning of class.

4. Read article 3 — 10 minutes
Again, ask students to underline any new information.

5. Small group discussion — 5 minutes
Ask students to share what they noted while reading.

6. Large group discussion — 5 minutes
Have each group report at least three comments they discussed. Comments may not be repeated from group to group.

6. Exit slip assessment — 5 minutes
Ask students to write down as many part of libel law and defenses to libel they can. (No notes, just memory on this.)

If students already are proficient in understanding libel law, this lesson could be condensed to one day.

Beginning students might need more time for understanding libel law — especially if it wasn’t already discussed.



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