Slight inaccuracies of expression are immaterial if the defamatory charge is true in substance. Brown v. Biggs, 569 S.W.2d 760, 762 (Mo. Ct. App. 1978).
Wire Service Defense
Missouri recognizes that a newspaper has the right to reply upon and to republish information obtained from "reputable and properly-regarded-as reliable news services" where (1) the matters republished are of public significance and occur many miles away and (2) the reporter did not act with actual malice. Walker v. Pulitzer Publ'g Co., 271 F.Supp. 364 (E.D. Mo. 1967), aff'd, 394 F.2d 800 (8th Cir. 1968).
Fair Reportage Privilege
Missouri has adopted this privilege in the exact language provided in the Restatement of Torts (Second) § 611:
The publication of defamatory matter concerning another in a report or an official action or proceeding or of a meeting open to the public that deals with a matter of public concern is privileged if the report is accurate and complete or a fair abridgement of the occurrence reported.
"Actual malice" is irrelevant under the Section 611 privilege. The privilege fails only when the report is not a fair and accurate account of the proceedings. Williams v. Pulitzer Broad. Co., 706 S.W.2d 508, 511 (Mo. Ct. App. 1986).
The Missouri Supreme Court, considering the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990),rejected a blanket defense for protected opinion and established instead the following test:
"The test to be applied to ostensible 'opinion' is whether a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the statement implies an assertion of objective fact. ...The issue of falsity relates to the defamatory facts implied by a statement -- in other words, whether the underlying statement about the plaintiff is demonstrably false... But neither 'imaginative expression' nor 'rhetorical hyperbole' is actionable as defamation."