As a further introduction to this subject, I can't help but think of a study I read about some years back. (I think it was in the groundbreaking book "Megatrends", but I haven't been able to verify this yet.) Anyway, the study looked at literature (I believe) since the start of this country. The conclusion was that up until WW2, the main theme in literature was personal character. Since WW2, that has pratically disappeared as a theme.
This shows the difference betwen now and the "olden days" (pre-WW2). In days of old, people cared about their personal character and their reputation for character. It was the most important thing to most people. I don't have stats for this, but I think it's fair to say that libel lawsuits were much more common in those days than they are now. This reflects the importance of one's reputation for personal character back then. When someone destroyed that reputation by spreading lies about you, then you had suffered a grievous wrong and had a viable lawsuit to pursue (or, you had a duel to fight).
The only significant libel lawsuit I can think of in my lifetime (i.e., post-WW2) is General Westmoreland's suit against CBS for its special report on Vietnam, in which it claimed that the military had deliberately reported inflated enemy body counts to articifially prop up sagging public support for the war. Westmoreland ultimately dismissed his suit, after his deputy testified at trial that the CBS report was in fact true.