Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




This thesis examines the Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc. Supreme Court decision as the source of the public issue doctrine (the application of the actual malice doctrine to private individuals who were involved in controversies over matters of public or general concern). The study uses an historical-legal viewpoint beginning with the Court of Star Chambers in early seventeenth century England. Within the framework of the law of defamation, the evolution of the concepts of public officials, public figures, private individuals and the public issue doctrine are examined in detail. The historical progression of libel litigation is briefly traced through the American Colonies and into the early years of the United States' legal development. A detailed examination is made of the court rulings that make up the common law of defamation beginning with the Supreme Court's New York Times v. Sullivan landmark decision in 1964. The concept of actual malice is examined, relative to the public issue doctrine, from its inception in the New York Times decision to its application to public figures who are not public employees. The next evolutionary step studied was the application of the actual malice doctrine to private individuals via the public issue doctrine. This was accomplished by the 1971 Rosenbloom decision. For three years, all plaintiffs in libel litigation were required to prove actual malice if the defamation involved an issue of public or general concern. The state courts and lower level federal courts adopted this standard and held it until the 1974 Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. decision repudiated the Rosenbloom issue doctrine. Several states retained the public issue standard even after it was repudiated by the Gertz decision. The states of Michigan, Indiana, Alaska and Colorado made a conscious choice, but Pennsylvania retained the issue doctrine by failing to readdress it in subsequent decisions for more than 20 years. The lasting effects that came from the Rosenbloom issue doctrine were the clear and convincing standard of proof required for actual malice and the increased difficulty experienced by libel defendants seeking summary judgments. In the aftermath of the issue doctrine, the courts have returned to refining the law of defamation.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Communication and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts. Copyright Simon Auguste Danigole, Jr., October, 1994