There are times, however, when even the most careful publisher can be sued for defamation. In such a situation, a number of defenses may be available to you depending on what you published and the source(s) you relied on for the information. The most important defense is "truth." If the statement at issue is substantially true, a defamation claim cannot succeed because you have a right to publish truthful information even if it injures another's reputation. But truth is not the only defense that may be available. For example, if you publish a defamatory allegation made by a party in a lawsuit, even if it turns out that the allegation is false, a defamation claim against you cannot succeed because you have a right to report on allegations made in court regardless of whether they are true. Similarly, statements by legislators on the floor of the legislature, or by judges while sitting on the bench are typically privileged and cannot support a cause of action for defamation, even if they turn out to be false.
Sometimes the reliance on these sources may result in the publication of defamatory falsehoods, but in publishing the information you are performing the vital civic function of making information available to the public and of playing a watchdog role with regard to the government and other interests in society. To deal with the tension between the possibility of defaming individuals and the importance of reporting the news and information in a timely manner, courts have developed a number of defenses which often called "privileges" by lawyers. Keep in mind, however, the privileges described below are not available in all circumstances or in every state, so you should also review your state's specific law in the State Law: Defamation section of this guide.
Possible privileges and defenses include: