William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


In 1992, Rolling Stone magazine published "The Origin of AIDS. ?" The article explored a controversial and unconfirmed theory that the AIDS epidemic had been an inadvertent result of a polio vaccine trial conducted in Africa in the late 1950s. The researcher who conducted the African trials discussed by Rolling Stone sued the magazine for libel. He alleged that the article should be interpreted as asserting that he had caused the epidemic, that the AIDS-polio vaccine theory was false, and that it defamed him. Monkey Trials explores the controversial theory of the origin of AIDS and considers whether discussion (or advocacy) of such a hypothesis should be protected by guarantees of free speech and press. It concludes that such complex criticism should be entitled to heightened protection, at least in those cases where the criticism is alleged to defame people with extraordinary power to shape the world in which we live. A broad, objective, and powerful rule is required to protect "complex criticism" because of its contribution to understanding (even when it is mistaken), and because complex criticism is often of great importance in setting the political agenda