With respect to certain privacy rights, public figures – such as the President of the United States or Tom Cruise – have virtually no legal right to privacy. What the media may know about a celebrity or politician is fair game for publication, no matter how dastardly the information may be. This is so because where public figures are involved, the newsworthiness of the information will outweigh the right to privacy of the public figure – so long as the information is actually true and was not printed or aired with “actual malice.” When celebrities and politicians sue the media, the legal question generally boils down to two questions: Was the information true, and was it printed without actual malice – or intent to harm the public figure. If the answer is no, the media will succeed on the legal claim nearly every time.
However, if you are an average person with no public figure status, the media doesn’t have a legal right to go printing and airing your dirty laundry. Why? Because it is not particularly newsworthy, and thus, your right to privacy outweighs the newsworthiness of the information.
So, what’s the lesson here? The lesson is this: Don’t go spreading gossip (true or not) about your friends or coworkers to the media , or even on your own website. If your neighbor has a terrible crack addiction and carries on illicit affairs, that doesn’t mean you have the right to go to the press about it.