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In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court defined actual malice as a state of mind in which a person or publication makes an untrue and defamatory statement about a person “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”
In order to recover damages for libel, a public official or public figure must be able to show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with actual malice. In other words, the defendant must act either with actual knowledge of the falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth. Actual malice then is measured neither by reasonably prudent conduct, nor an industry's professional standards; rather, it is wholly subjective.