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HOFFMAN v. WASHINGTON POST CO.

June 23, 1977

BOB HOFFMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE WASHINGTON POST COMPANY, GABE MIRKIN, M.D., and HOWARD SIMONS, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

 This is a libel action against the Washington Post Company, publisher of The Washington Post, Howard Simons, Managing Editor of The Washington Post, and Gabe Mirkin, a medical doctor recognized as an expert in the field of sports medicine. Plaintiff is President of the York Barbell Company of York, Pennsylvania, and a trainer of athletes. He also publishes magazines, writes articles, and lectures on health and body building and sells dietary supplements. The matters now before the Court are defendants' motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed oppositions to said motions.

 On April 29, 1976, The Washington Post published an article by defendant Mirkin entitled "How Valuable Are Training Tables and Protein Diets?" That article is the subject of this lawsuit. The article read, in part:

 
Twenty-five years ago, many national weight lifting champions came from York, Pa. Bob Hoffman, coach of the York team wrote several articles crediting his team's success to a high-protein diet. Because he sold "Hoffman's High Protein Tablets", he made a great deal of money and drove a Rolls Royce. But many other athletes who bought Hoffman's food supplements were unable to equal the performance of Hoffman's athletes. It was later discovered that many of his athletes were on anabolic steroids. Hoffman's protein supplements were valueless to everyone except Mr. Hoffman. The fact that weight lifters still waste their money on protein supplements is an example of how difficult it is to dispel false concepts. As for Bob Hoffman, he died five years ago of a heart attack.

 The Washington Post, Apr. 29, 1976, Section E, at 9, col. 1. Plaintiff complains that the following five statements from that article are defamatory:

 
(1) "Because he sold 'Hoffman's High Protein Tablets,' [plaintiff] made a great deal of money. . . ."
 
(2) "Because he sold 'Hoffman's High Protein Tablets,' [plaintiff] . . . drove a Rolls Royce."
 
(3) "It was later discovered that many of [plaintiff's] athletes were on anabolic steroids."
 
(4) "Hoffman's protein supplements were valueless to everyone except Mr. Hoffman."
 
(5) "As for Bob Hoffman, he died five years ago of a heart attack." *fn1"

 1. The Common Law Defenses of Truth and "Fair Comment."

 Defendants maintain that two of the five alleged defamatory statements are not defamatory. Those statements are that plaintiff drove a Rolls Royce as a result of selling high protein tablets and that plaintiff died five years ago of a heart attack. The Court need not determine whether these two statements, standing by themselves, are defamatory. They were not published standing by themselves. They were published in context. The Court's function is to determine whether the publication, taken as a whole, is defamatory, not whether two isolated statements might not be defamatory if published by themselves.

 Speaking generally, the proper approach to defendants' motions for summary judgment based on the usual common law defenses is to first determine (a) whether the publication is capable of bearing a particular meaning and (b) whether that meaning is defamatory. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 614 (1977). The meaning of the article must first be determined, Clark, supra, at 191, construing its words together in context. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 563 & comment d (1977); Williams v. Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 88 U.S. App. D.C. 99, 185 F.2d 1005, 1007 (1950). In the instant case, there is no material dispute over the meaning of the article in question. In addition, the Court ...


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