Libel damages may be recoverable (in this instance against a news organization) if the injured party is a non-public official; but claimants must demonstrate a reckless lack of professional standards on the part of the organization in examining allegations for reasonable credibility.
The decision held that, while news organizations were protected from liability when printing allegations about public officials under the Supreme Court's New York Times Co. v. Sullivan decision (1964), they may still be liable to public figures if the information they disseminate is recklessly gathered and unchecked.
The decision was the result of a libel lawsuit filed by former Georgia Bulldogs football coach Wally Butts against the Saturday Evening Post. The lawsuit arose from an article in the magazine alleging that Butts and Alabama head coach Bear Bryant had conspired to fix games. The court ruled in favor of Butts in 1967, and the Saturday Evening Post was ordered to pay $3.06 million to Butts in damages, an amount which was later reduced on appeal to $460,000. This settlement was seen as a contributing factor in the demise of the venerable Saturday Evening Post and its parent corporation, the Curtis Publishing Company, two years later. Both Butts and Bryant had sued for $10 million each. Bryant settled for $300,000.