Libel: Fact, Fiction, Doubt & Barry

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1,189 PSYCHIATRISTS SAY GOLD WATER IS PSYCHOLOGICALLY UNFIT TO BE PRESIDENT! That determinedly flamboyant headline dressed the cover of Fact magazine one month before the presidential election of 1964. The entire issue was an examination of the "unconscious of a conservative," based largely on answers to a questionnaire sent to the 12,356 psychiatrists listed by the American Medical Association. Of the 2,417 who replied, 657 said Barry Goldwater was fit for the presidency, 571 declined to take a position, and 1,189 called him unfit—the latter in no uncertain terms. Some of their opinions: "emotionally unstable," "immature," "cowardly," "grossly psychotic," "paranoid," "mass murderer," "amoral and immoral," "chronic schizophrenic" and "dangerous lunatic." One psychiatrist even felt that a proposed Goldwater visit to Hitler's Berchtesgaden "is enough to convince me of his strong identification with the authoritarianism of Hitler, if not identification with Hitler himself."

The unprofessional—not to say unbalanced—nature of such remarks brought immediate condemnation from the A.M.A. and the American Psychiatric Association. It also brought a $2,000,000 libel suit from Goldwater against Fact, Publisher Ralph Ginzburg and his managing editor. Last week the suit finally came to trial.

The issue, however, was not simply whether Fact had been full of fiction. Senator Goldwater was then a particularly public figure, and the Supreme Court has made it extremely difficult for such persons to win a libel suit. To avoid stifling the free-speech right to criticize government leaders, the court since 1964 has required proof that the alleged libeler had "malice" or "reckless disregard" for the truth. Just two weeks ago, the test became stiffer still. Beyond "reckless disregard," the court added the necessity of proving that the libeler "entertained serious doubt" about the truth of his accusation.

But Goldwater was uncowed, and last week he started to make his case in a federal district court in New York City. What had particularly galled him was an article by Publisher Ginzburg.* In it, Ginzburg wondered whether it was "possible that Goldwater's nervous breakdowns were provoked by his intense anxiety about his manhood." Goldwater testified that he had "never had any doubts about it." Calm and comfortable in the witness chair, he declared flatly that he had not had a nervous breakdown either. In fact, he said, "I have never talked to a psychiatrist in my life."

He was baffled by some of the psychiatric allegations. "I don't know what an anal character would be. I tried to look it up in a dictionary, but I couldn't find it." Asked about the written charges that he feared and hated his wife, he replied, "I love my wife. I still do and always will. I don't know how you hate somebody you love." The whole business had "upset" him greatly, he said. He could take the usual sniping, "but when you come up with something like that that weighs several tons, the effect is rather depressing."

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