Of course, it is not always easy to determine whether a statement is a pure opinion. As we noted above, opinions that imply false underlying facts will not be protected. For example, stating that "Chris is insane" could be both a fact and an opinion. It could mean Chris has been diagnosed with psychosis and needs to be hospitalized in a mental institution; this could be proven false. It could also mean that Chris has wacky ideas that one doesn't agree with, which is an opinion. In determining which meaning the statement should be given, courts often rely on context and common-sense logic (or to phrase it in legalese, the "totality of circumstances" of the publication). For example, if one called Chris insane in a forum post as part of a heated argument over politics, the statement would likely be interpreted as an opinion.
Some examples of protected opinions include the following:
Statements in the "Asshole of the Month" column in Hustler magazine that described a feminist leader as a "pus bloated walking sphincter," "wacko," and someone who suffers from "bizarre paranoia" were protected opinion because the context of the magazine and column made it clear that the statements were "understood as ridicule or vituperation" and "telegraph to a reader that the article presents opinions, not allegations of fact." Leidholdt v. L.F.P. Inc., 860 F.2d 890 (9th Cir. 1988).
Statement in the New York Post that referred to the plaintiff as a "fat, failed, former sheriff's deputy" was protected opinion because it was hyperbole and had an "alliterative quality" with a "rhetorical effect indicative of a statement of opinion." Jewell v. NYP Holdings, Inc., 23 F. Supp.2d 348 (S.D.N.Y. 1998).