Our speaking profession is a high calling. We are stewards of the spo- ken word, flush with responsibility.
As speakers, we enjoy privilege of the platform. As Americans, we’re entitled to First
Amendment freedom of speech. But privilege
can be taken away, and the First Amendment
is not absolute. We must be wise, for we can
wield words for good or harm. And words can
hurt far worse than sticks and stones.
Oh, we’re unlikely to violate many First
Amendment exceptions: fraud, threats,
words inciting riots or other unlawful behavior, instructing how to build bombs, obscenity. Nor are we apt to intentionally defame,
plagiarize, infringe, or spew hatred. But
every now and again, we might unwittingly
and clumsily amble through minefields.
DANGERS OF DEFAMATION
Defamation, for example. Truth absolves us.
Yet brutal truth is often better left unsaid.
What’s more, “opinion” can still render
liability. Courts consistently rule that while
pure opinion is protected, opinion based
on false disclosed facts is not. “John Jones
is a lousy mayor” is fine, but “John Jones is
a lousy mayor because he puts relatives on
the city payroll who don’t do any work” is
problematic if the underlying factual basis
(putting no-shows on public payroll) turns
out to be false.
Moral: We should say nothing that would
tend to impeach the honesty and integrity
of a living person unless we are certain
our facts are correct. Even then, consider
whether such is productive.
RUSS RIDDLE, JD,
has practiced intellectual
property law for 27 years. He
is vice-chair of the Speaker
Editorial Committee, a
member of the NSA Board
of Directors, immediate
past chair of the Chapter
Leadership Committee, and
a past president of the North
Wield your words for good
BY RUSS RIDDLE, JD