Did John Oliver slander Quality Inns?

Old Feb 29, 16, 2:06 pm
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Did John Oliver slander Quality Inns?

John Oliver did a shtick yesterday making fun of Donald Trump (which obviously isn't hard to do). He played a video of a failed real estate scheme where Trump says his name stands for quality. Oliver then says, "Yeah, it's easy to throw around the word "quality." (flashing up the Quality Inn logo). Have you ever stayed at a Quality Inn? They stuff the pillowcases with the hair they fished out of the bathroom drain."

The joke is funny, but Oliver went too far with the pillowcase part. Oliver better hope that Choice is less litigious than Trump.

You can see the pertinent clip at 13:00

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner...r-takes-donald
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Old Feb 29, 16, 4:55 pm
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Yeah, I wondered about that, too. Mind you, doesn't that come under protected free speech, as satire?
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Old Feb 29, 16, 6:54 pm
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I don't think they'd have much of a case. Satire, even biting, is protected by the First Amendment when it is clearly such. Nobody believes that John Oliver, in the midst of a schtick, was reporting an actual fact about Quality Inn's pillow procedures.

For background on this precedent, enjoy the very memorable Supreme Court case of Hustler v. Falwell.
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Old Feb 29, 16, 8:29 pm
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Originally Posted by ezefllying View Post
I don't think they'd have much of a case. Satire, even biting, is protected by the First Amendment when it is clearly such. Nobody believes that John Oliver, in the midst of a schtick, was reporting an actual fact about Quality Inn's pillow procedures.

For background on this precedent, enjoy the very memorable Supreme Court case of Hustler v. Falwell.
Well, I'm not a Constitutional lawyer, but the Hustler case is quite different. There, the magazine ran a parody ad in which Falwell was having sex with his mother in an outhouse. Nobody could have believed the ad was real.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hustle...ine_v._Falwell

Here, Oliver was not really parodying Quality Inns -- he was parodying Trump. There is no question that Oliver could say the quality of Trump's buildings was as bad as Quality Inn's product. But, in the process, does the First Amendment allow him to make up a somewhat-real-sounding criticism about the motel chain's pillows?

Beats me. FWIW, I do think it's undeniable that this piece has damaged Quality Inn's reputation. Most of his viewing audience undoubtedly has less experience with the chain than we do, and there's little question that this piece would make these viewers believe that the Quality Inn name is a lie and that the chain has very low quality.

EDIT: If you don't believe this is slander because the pillowcase claim isn't "sufficiently believable," would it be slander if Oliver has said, "Have you ever stayed at a Quality Inn? They don't even change the sheets between guests." Is there a "believability" test in permissible parody?

Last edited by iahphx; Feb 29, 16 at 8:47 pm Reason: more
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Old Feb 29, 16, 8:53 pm
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You dont need a map to find a quality inn. Just follow your nose to the smell of bleach
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Old Feb 29, 16, 10:01 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
Well, I'm not a Constitutional lawyer, but the Hustler case is quite different. There, the magazine ran a parody ad in which Falwell was having sex with his mother in an outhouse. Nobody could have believed the ad was real.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hustle...ine_v._Falwell

Here, Oliver was not really parodying Quality Inns -- he was parodying Trump. There is no question that Oliver could say the quality of Trump's buildings was as bad as Quality Inn's product. But, in the process, does the First Amendment allow him to make up a somewhat-real-sounding criticism about the motel chain's pillows?

Beats me. FWIW, I do think it's undeniable that this piece has damaged Quality Inn's reputation. Most of his viewing audience undoubtedly has less experience with the chain than we do, and there's little question that this piece would make these viewers believe that the Quality Inn name is a lie and that the chain has very low quality.

EDIT: If you don't believe this is slander because the pillowcase claim isn't "sufficiently believable," would it be slander if Oliver has said, "Have you ever stayed at a Quality Inn? They don't even change the sheets between guests." Is there a "believability" test in permissible parody?
Yes there is a believability test when it comes to parody vs defamation. However, given that A) John Oliver's show is generally a comedic show and B) he was clearly in the middle of a schtick, no court would find him liable. Maybe if he gave the "and this is completely true" little piece he does before some things, then he might have trouble, but otherwise, no. The test is a "Reasonable person" test as to believability AND whether it's parody. So we'd need a reasonable person to believe it weren't parody and then need a reasonable person to also believe that it is true.

Also, truth is a defense to defamation, so if John can show that Quality has ever not changed the sheets between guests, he'd successfully defeat a libel claim. BTW, radio and television are judged using the libel standard, not slander (and yes, they do have some distinct differences when bringing a lawsuit).

Edited to add: In the present case, there is no way in a million years a that John Oliver can be found liable for libel. They have to show "actual malice" which is a legal term of art but essentially means he knew it was false or recklessly disregarded whether or not it was true before saying it (and it must meet the other tests listed above). It really is difficult to sue somebody for libel and win if you are a public person/corporation. For private individuals it's a bit easier, but when it comes to big companies, famous people, etc, it's exceptionally difficult because we don't want people to feel they cannot express their opinions or beliefs AND we don't want to limit the artistic expression of comedy. It isn't about whether you think it's funny, or whether the justices of the supreme court think it's funny. The fact that some people think it's funny (and therefore, presumably, artistic) is what gives it the protection. Same thing goes for pornography and explains why pretty much all pornography that isn't child porn is strictly protected.

Last edited by ericgdukie44; Feb 29, 16 at 10:06 pm
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Old Feb 29, 16, 10:14 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
I do think it's undeniable that this piece has damaged Quality Inn's reputation.
Yes, but that's established by simply mocking the irony of the Quality brand name. I don't know if the add-on jab about hair pillows does any incremental damage.
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Old Mar 1, 16, 8:47 am
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Very clearly satire and not slander
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Old Mar 1, 16, 10:59 am
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1. Who is John Oliver, anyway?


and


2. Why does anyone care?
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Old Mar 1, 16, 12:42 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
EDIT: If you don't believe this is slander because the pillowcase claim isn't "sufficiently believable," would it be slander if Oliver has said, "Have you ever stayed at a Quality Inn? They don't even change the sheets between guests." Is there a "believability" test in permissible parody?
I cannot imagine how a court would find that a reasonable person could believe Oliver, a comedian on a comedy show, was seriously alleging that Quality Inns stuff the pillowcases with guests' hair.

Not changing sheets is still probably something you cannot reasonably take seriously under the circumstances (comedian, comedy show, audience laughter), but Oliver's joke was much more obviously a joke than that.
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Old Mar 1, 16, 12:50 pm
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Originally Posted by ericgdukie44 View Post
Edited to add: In the present case, there is no way in a million years a that John Oliver can be found liable for libel. They have to show "actual malice" which is a legal term of art but essentially means he knew it was false or recklessly disregarded whether or not it was true before saying it (and it must meet the other tests listed above). It really is difficult to sue somebody for libel and win if you are a public person/corporation.
Are you sure that Sullivan malice is necessarily the requisite showing? Not my specialty, but I'd be a little surprised if public corporations are always "public figures" for purposes of defamation law.
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Old Mar 1, 16, 1:44 pm
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Originally Posted by Allan38103 View Post
1. Who is John Oliver, anyway?


and


2. Why does anyone care?
1. John Oliver is one of the funniest people out there. I've been following him for years on The Daily Show and The Bugle podcast.

2. No one should.
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