Maybe I’m missing something but how is posting a video clip slander? Yes, he clearly cherry-picked a passage to make her look bad. But what is the legal basis for this to be slander, especially since she is a public official?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of Breitbart - he is a blowhard hypocrit who whines about liberals as if he is being persecuted and then celebrates and does the same things he whines about - but I don’t see how this is a legitimate suit.
This is normally about a three hour session in Torts class in law school. But let me try to condense it. First you have to understand the terminology.
Slander is the spoken word. Libel is the printed word. However since broadcast media (radio and television) are equated in first amendment terms with the ‘Press” (newspapers and magazines) material that is broadcast is considered to be libel. I have not researched how the internet would fall in these terms, however I suspect it would be considered libel as opposed to slander. Most states have combined the two into a defamation action.
Both slander and libel actions require that the “statements” be false and that they make the target look bad. Truth is an absolute defense to libel or slander actions.
Let’s suppose that I’m talking to B3 at a bar and during our conversation I say there are photos of Toko spray painting the Harry Carrey statue. That is slander. Suppose I then post that statement here on jaythejoke.com. The statement becomes libel. Let’s take it a step further, suppose I photoshop a picture that allegedly shows Toko actually spray painting the statue. It would be defamatory in either situation.
Now you spoke of the woman being a public official. You have obviously heard some discussion of defamation actions before. However, the proper phrase is “public figure”. Where that applies is to the defense of a defamation charge.
The United States Supreme Court has determined there is a level of defense to defamation charges when one is “reporting” on “Public Figures”. The court has reasoned that those that put themselves in the public light, subject themselves to more scrutiny and give the media more leeway in its reporting. Being an appointed public official is different than being an elected public official. In the first the person does not seek public attention for the position. In the latter the person subjects themselves to public scrutiny. Where it gets tricky is in the case of a person like Drew Peterson. The notoriety he incurred when the talk of the circumstances of the deaths of his wives may have made him a public figure. Once he started going on the Steve Dahl show, and the national morning shows, he put himself into a position of being a public figure.
What they have said is that to sustain a defamation action against an entity, the “public figure” must show the publisher had a “knowledge of falsity” of the statements made or a “disregard for the truth” of the statements made.
Now in this case, Ms. Sherrod is alleging that Breitbart and his co-defendants knowingly and willfully took a statement out of context to make her look bad. Even though they used her own words, they presented them in a way that made the statements untrue. It’s similar to TomD’s tag line about capitalization. Presented one way means one thing, presented the second something completely different.
As a private citizen, Ms. Sherrod will only have to prove the statements presented her in a false light and that she suffered harm from them. The extent of her harm (as has been pointed out) will be for a jury to decide. However if she is determined to be a public figure (and we should hope that is not the case) it won’t be hard to prove that Breitbart and his cohorts had a disregard for the truth of the statements the made and edited. Don’t forget they included their own comments in her speech.
I disagree with Bill’s thoughts that only the president cannot be defamed. The president can be defamed. The problem is that if the president (pick any president in our lifetimes) brought an action every time he was defamed, the president would be spending all his time in depositions and not running the country. Just look at the BS from the Paula Jones case. That thing lasted two terms and led to an impeachment proceeding and she did’t make one penny more than the original offer made to her.