Disclaimer: This article may contain the personal views and opinions of the author.
There seems to be a misconception of what defamation means in a court of law. We have the First Amendment that protects free speech. That means you can say what you want without the fear of persecution.
We keep hearing about defamation cases from Alex Jones on Sandy Hook shooting to Johnny Depp being a wife beater. Or the defamation cases regarding Kyle Rittenhouse and Nick Sandmann. President Donald Trump recently filed a defamation lawsuit against CNN.
According to Maga Conservatives:
Former President Donald Trump sued CNN for defamation claiming the cable news network has escalated a campaign of libel and slander against him because the network thinks he’ll run for re-election in 2024.
CNN has attempted to taint Trump “with a series of ever-more scandalous, false, and defamatory labels of ‘racist,’ ‘Russian lackey,’ ‘insurrectionist,’ and ultimately ‘Hitler,'” the former president’s filing states.
Trump’s filing of defamatory labels and nothing positive is a feeble argument and most likely won’t hold up in court. And if that is how his team of lawyers will go about it, it shouldn’t.
Don’t get me wrong; I want Trump to run again. I would like it even more if the House broke tradition and voted him in as Speaker of the House since the Speaker doesn’t need to be a member.
The point of a defamation case is that the defendant knowingly and willfully lied to slander the plaintiff’s reputation. Calling someone “Hitler” is an opinion; it is slander but an opinion that the First Amendment protects.
Maga Conservatives quote the filing from Trump’s team:
“As a part of its concerted effort to tilt the political balance to the Left, CNN has tried to taint the Plaintiff with a series of ever-more scandalous, false, and defamatory labels of “racist,” “Russian lackey,” “insurrectionist,” and ultimately “Hitler.”
“These labels are neither hyperbolic nor opinion: these are repeatedly reported as true fact, with purported factual support, by allegedly “reputable” newscasters, acting not merely with reckless disregard for the truth of their statements (sufficient to meet the definition of the legal standard for “actual malice”) but acting with real animosity for the Plaintiff and seeking to cause him true harm (the way “actual malice” commonly is understood).
If the shoe was on the other foot and Biden sued Fox News for allowing Tucker or Hannity to compare Biden to Chancellor Sutler, conservatives would cry foul. So why does this argument not hold up, but cases like Johnny Depp’s do?
Both situations involve bringing harm to the plaintiff’s reputation. However, one is an opinion, and the other is knowingly presenting false facts. You might be thinking, CNN does that by calling Trump a “Russian lackey” as fact. That is a good point, but what if the shoe was on the other foot? This is a slippery slope case; without proper context, Trump getting called “Racist” or a “Russian lackey” can be viewed as hyperbolic. If not, then people like Steven Crowder and Hannity are out of the job.
In Johnny Depp’s case, Amber Heard presented herself by saying she is “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” Amber knowingly presented false statements that harmed Depp’s reputation. People thought of him as a wife beater. She criminalized him with her words.
Nick Sandmann’s case had lawsuits against multiple News outlets, including CNN.
“Sandmann’s complaints argue Phillips’ statements were false and defamatory, meaning the companies acted negligently, recklessly and with actual malice in publishing them. That is, the companies allegedly could have determined the statements were false using the other videos and by relying on “reasonable journalistic care,” but did not.”
In Sandmann’s case, there was evidence that showed a different story. The media outlets could have reached out to him, or they could have fact-checked their statements.
The videos from other angles didn’t come out immediately, but once they did, the media outlets could have said they were wrong, apologized, and given the Covington students a platform. Instead, they doubled down, knowingly presenting a false narrative that has been verifiably false.
Kyle Rittenhouse may have a more challenging time. Before his case went to trial, Kyle was labeled as a murderer and a white supremacist.
Biden even made a tweet during his campaign:
“There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night.”
Like with Trump’s case, it won’t be easy to separate what is an opinion and what is presented as false facts.
Lastly, a forgotten Founding Father also had defamation battles of his own. Dr. Benjamin Rush was the only doctor to sign the Declaration of Independence. He held no public office or platform but was a great humanitarian and a bit ahead of his time.
Rush advocated for abolition, women’s rights, universal free schooling, public sanitation, a ban on child labor, prison reform, and an end to capital punishment for noncapital crimes. He served as a field surgeon in the American Revolution and is a Founding Father that should be talked about more often.
Back in the day, there was a devastating yellow fever epidemic in 1793.
“As thousands fled the city, Rush and a handful of other dedicated physicians risked catching the disease to remain in Philadelphia and treat the ill, relying largely on age-old “depletion” treatments—i.e., bleeding and purging—to try to rid ailing bodies of the disease.”
The editor of “Porcupine’s Gazette,” William Cobbett, had this to say about the Father of American Psychiatry:
“The remorseless Dr. Rush shall bleed me till I am white as this paper before I’ll allow that he was doing good to mankind.” With no knowledge of medicine, Cobbett charged that Rush and those who adopted purge-and-bleed treatments had “slain thousands and will bleed patients to the grave if not stopped,” even calling them “butchers.”
In Rush v. Cobbett, Rush won his case because the malicious assaults were made by someone ignorant of medical science.
Defamation cases are, in general, challenging to prove. This is a good thing. Trump’s team has to go above and beyond to prove such slander was not opinion but false facts being presented to the public. That actual harm was brought onto his reputation. At this point, it looks like a losing battle and a waste of energy. Personally, I think the Trump team needs to rethink their choices on the battles they wish to fight.