Absence of Malice is a 1981 film about libel and the responsibility of news organizations to publish the truth.
6 out of 10 stars. This is a bit outdated and has a sex story that’s pointless. At one point Paul Newman’s character almost rapes Sally Field’s character. Completely unnecessary for that.
Michael Gallagher is an innocent man who is maligned in a newspaper article. He’s labeled the key suspect in the disappearance of a union official named Joey Diaz. But he had nothing to do with it. The Assistant District Attorney tricked the reporter into printing the article to get Gallagher to come forward and provide evidence against his uncle, who is a known mobster. Immediately after the article is printed, Gallagher finds his life rapidly falling apart. His business dries up because no one will do business with him. His best friend, who happens to be a woman and a devout Catholic, was with him on the day Diaz disappeared. When the reporter discovers this, she publishes that too, prompting the woman to commit suicide. She was having an abortion, which although legal was certainly not something any of her family or Catholic friends would understand. And she worked for the Catholic church, so she would have lost her job too. So much ruined in his life for nothing.
At this point, any legitimate reporter would have stopped because clearly her judgment was impaired. She’s ruined Gallagher’s business and personal life and his best friend is dead. But she doesn’t stop which makes Sally Field’s character really despicable. She continues to print half-truths and misleading stories. She hounds Gallagher for information to prove his innocence as he’s grieving his friend’s suicide. She seriously knows no boundaries. Then she begins a sexual relationship with Gallagher while he’s grieving ( and his judgment is impaired).
The deeply disturbing part of this film is the legal stance of the newspaper who has an on-staff attorney. As the paper’s attorney explains to the reporter, the truth is irrelevant. It’s the paper’s duty to report the news. If Gallagher was a public figure they could print anything. But as a private citizen, there are two tests. The first test is absence of malice. If they have a legitimate source and report only what they are told, then there is no malice, or intent to harm. The second test is negligence, whether they printed both sides. In other words they must contact Gallagher and ask his side. And they must print it along with the story. If they can’t reach him, they must say that. In this instance, they called him once then gave up and immediately printed the story. So they didn’t really try to be responsible.
By the end of the film, the Assistant District Attorney is exposed, but Gallagher’s life is destroyed and he moves away. Does the newspaper print an article about his innocence? Of course not. That wouldn’t sell papers. And money is all they care about.
6 out of 10 stars. This is one of those movies that shows you something despicable about an industry that makes money by destroying lives. When the reporter prints the article about the Catholic girl’s abortion, it’s heartbreaking to see her wait up all night then steal the newspapers from all the lawns in her neighborhood. She does this moments before she kills herself, realizing it’s futile and they’ll find out what she did. The demise of the newspaper business was a good thing for this country, because they were pretty irresponsible.