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First Amendment Library:
John J. Buckley Jr.


In 1974, respondent Reader's Digest Association, Inc., published a book entitled KGB, the Secret Work of Soviet Agents (KGB), written by respondent John Barron.[1] The book describes the Soviet Union's espionage organization and chronicles its activities since World War II. In a passage referring to disclosures by "royal commissions in Canada and Australia, and official investigations in Great Britain and the United States," the book contains the following statements relating to petitioner Ilya Wolston:

"Among Soviet agents identified in the United States were Elizabeth T. Bentley, Edward Joseph Fitzgerald, William Ludwig Ullmann, William Walter Remington, Franklin Victor Reno, Judith Coplon, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Morton Sobell, William Perl, Alfred Dean Slack, Jack Soble, Ilya Wolston, Alfred and Martha Stern.[*]*160 claiming that the passages in KGB stating that he had been indicated for espionage and had been a Soviet agent were false and defamatory. The District Court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment. 429 F. Supp. 167 (1977). The court held that petitioner was a "public figure" and that the First Amendment therefore precluded recovery unless petitioner proved that respondents had published a defamatory falsehood with "`actual malice'—that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not," New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 280 (1964). 429 F. Supp., at 172, 176. While the District Court agreed that the above-quoted portions of KGB appeared to state falsely that petitioner had been indicted for espionage, it ruled, on the basis of affidavits and deposition testimony, that the evidence raised no genuine issue with respect to the existence of "actual malice" on the part of respondents. Id., at 180-181. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. 188 U. S. App. D. C. 185, 578 F. 2d 427 (1978).[2]
*161 We granted certiorari, 439 U. S. 1066 (1979), and we now reverse. We hold that the District Court and the Court of Appeals were wrong in concluding that petitioner was a public figure within the meaning of this Court's defamation cases. Petitioner therefore was not required by the First Amendment to meet the "actual malice" standard of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, in order to recover from respondents.[3]During 1957 and 1958, a special federal grand jury sitting in New York City conducted a major investigation into the activities of Soviet intelligence agents in the United States. As a result of this investigation, petitioner's aunt and uncle, Myra and Jack Soble, were arrested in January 1957 on charges of spying. The Sobles later pleaded guilty to espionage charges, and in the ensuing months, the grand jury's investigation focused on other participants in a suspected Soviet espionage ring, resulting in further arrests, convictions, and *162 guilty pleas. On the same day the Sobles were arrested, petitioner was interviewed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at his home in the District of Columbia.[4] Petitioner was interviewed several more times during the following months in both Washington and in New York City and traveled to New York on various occasions pursuant to grand jury subpoenas.