Gossip columnist

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A gossip columnist is someone who writes a gossip column in a newspaper or magazine, especially a gossip magazine. Gossip columns are material written in a light, informal style, which relates the gossip columnist's opinions about the personal lives or conduct of celebrities from show business (motion picture movie stars, theater, and television actors), politicians, professional sports stars, and other wealthy people or public figures. Some gossip columnists broadcast segments on radio and television.

The columns mix factual material on arrests, divorces, marriages and pregnancies, obtained from official records, with more speculative gossip stories, rumors, and innuendo about romantic relationships, affairs, and purported personal problems.

Gossip columnists have a reciprocal relationship with the celebrities whose private lives are splashed about in the gossip column's pages. Of course, some gossip columnists can engage in borderline defamatory conduct, spreading innuendo about alleged immoral or illegal conduct that can injure celebrities' reputations. Yet at the same time, gossip columnists are also an important part of the "Star System" publicity machine that turns movie actors and musicians into celebrities and superstars that are the objects of the public's obsessive attention and interest. The publicity agents of celebrities often provide or "leak" information or rumors to gossip columnists to publicize the celebrity or their projects, or to counteract "bad press" that has recently surfaced about their conduct.

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Libel and defamation

While gossip columnists’ "bread and butter" is rumor, innuendo, and allegations of scandalous behavior, there is a fine line between legally acceptable spreading of innuendo and rumor and the making of defamatory statements, which can provoke a lawsuit. Newspaper and magazine editorial policies normally require gossip columnists to have a source for all of their allegations to protect the publisher against lawsuits for defamation.

Celebrities or public figures whose private lives are revealed in gossip columns who believe that their reputation has been defamed — that is, exposed to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or pecuniary loss — can sue for libel. A gossip columnist cannot defend themselves from a libel claim by arguing that they merely repeated, but did not originate the defamating rumor or claim; instead, the columnist has to prove that the allegedly defaming statement was truthful, or that it was based on a reasonably reliable source.

In the mid-1960s, rulings by the United States Supreme Court made it harder for the media to be sued for libel in the U.S. The court ruled that libel only occurred in cases where a publication printed falsehoods about a celebrity with “reckless disregard” for the truth. A celebrity suing a newspaper for libel must now prove that the paper published the falsehood with actual malice or with deliberate knowledge that the statement was both incorrect and defamatory.

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