The Supreme Court has ruled that a journalist may be sued for deliberately misquoting someone in a way that results "in a material change in the meaning conveyed by the statement." Such an alteration is evidence of "actual malice" -- knowledge that one's reporting is false or a reckless disregard for whether the article is true or false. "Actual malice" is the standard journalists writing about public figures have lived with for a generation in the area of defamation.
All nine justices agreed the case should go to trial, that the First Amendment does not apply. Two justices would have allowed a trial even if the misquote had not materially changed the meaning.
The case involves made-up and misleading quotations by author Janet Malcolm in an article (and later a book) for the New Yorker magazine about psychiatric scholar Jeffrey Masson. At least they appear to us to be made up and misleading. The magazine is famous for its detailed fact-checking system. But when, before publication, Mr. Masson denied making these statements, the New Yorker editors apparently took Ms. Malcolm's word for it that she had everything she quoted him as saying on tape. After he sued, her tapes revealed distortions of the quotations, which in our view demeaned and may well have illegally defamed Dr. Masson. That is a matter of fact for a trial jury to decide.