Libel is a legal term for a published statement that is false and harms the reputation of its subject. Such statements that are spoken, not published, are called slander. In legal parlance, the term defamation is used interchangeably with libel and slander. American law generally treats libel and slander the same, though libel has traditionally been considered more harmful than slander, because printed matter can travel farther and last longer than spoken words.

Knowledge of libel law is key to understanding the role of journalism and public commentary in a democratic society. Not only are libel suits among the most common legal threats journalists and commentators encounter, libel law is the central legal mechanism by which societies regulate the bounds of permissible criticism in the public ...

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