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Masson v. Malcolm et al.: 1993 & 1994

Back And Forth In The Courts, Final Decision, Suggestions For Further Reading

Plaintiff: Jeffrey M. Masson
Defendants: Janet Malcolm and the New Yorker magazine
Plaintiff Claim: That certain quotes in a profile of the plaintiff written by the defendant and published in the New Yorker were libelous
Chief Defense Lawyer: Gary Bostwick
Chief Lawyer for Plaintiff: Charles 0. Morgan
Judge: Eugene F. Lynch
Place: San Francisco, California
Dates of Trials: May 6-June 3, 1993; October 3-November 2, 1994
Verdict: For the defendant

SIGNIFICANCE: The long legal battle between psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson and writer Janet Malcolm resulted in a standard for determining when a misquote is grounds for a libel suit. The conflict also stirred an ethical debate among journalists over what is a legitimate quote.

In 1983, journalist Janet Malcolm wrote a two-part profile for the New Yorker magazine of Jeffrey Masson, a flamboyant psychoanalyst who challenged the traditional tenets of Freudian theory. At one time Masson had served as the projects director at the Sigmund Freud Archives in England, but was fired after advancing his dissident beliefs. Malcolm's unflattering profile of Masson portrayed him as a brash, egotistical man. The New Yorker has always had a reputation for its high journalistic standards, so the publishing world was surprised when the magazine and Malcolm were sued for libel.

After the article appeared, Masson claimed he never uttered some of the quotes Malcolm had attributed to him, and in 1984 he sued both Malcolm and the New Yorker, seeking $10 million in damages. Masson also named Alfred A. Knopf in his lawsuit, after the publishing company released the article as a book. Masson's action began a legal battle that took a dozen years to settle.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994