Posted on | July 30, 2014 | 30 Comments
Ace of Spades calls Jesse Ventura a “conspiracy-addled asshole” and he could have added “selfish,” “dishonest” and “vindictive” to that description without fear of being sued for defamation. The reaction to Ventura’s suing a Navy SEAL’s widow for $1.8 million is ironic: Ventura claimed that his reputation was harmed by Chris Kyle’s book; yet Ventura has inflicted more harm on his own reputation by suing than Kyle ever could have imagined inflicting on Ventura.
Having some direct experience with conspiracy-addled assholes who file lawsuits, and having been a journalist for more than 25 years before convicted bomber Brett Kimberlin had the unmitigated gall to claim I had “defamed” him, let me point out something that is being generally overlooked in the reaction to the verdict in Ventura v. Kyle.
Jesse Ventura’s opposition to the Iraq War, and his paranoid views about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, are a matter of public record, as Noah Rothman says at Hot Air:
Ventura is a noted conspiracy theorist whose kneejerk impulse [is] to blame the American government for everything from the 9/11 attacks, to the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound, to the JFK assassination has netted him frequent appearances on networks like Russia Today.
One can describe Ventura thus, on the basis of information plainly in evidence, without having defamed him. And to voice negative judgments on Ventura’s character — to call him a “kook,” a “crackpot” or a “bully” — is merely to express one’s opinion formed on the basis of readily available information about Ventura, who is a public figure per the Supreme Court’s Sullivan standard.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
How, then, did Ventura prevail in court against Kyle? We can blame the judge and the jury and call the verdict a travesty, yet there is one element of Kyle’s case any newspaper editor would immediately spot as a vulnerability: He asserted private knowledge.
This is a line that no smart journalist would ever cross: To claim to know something bad about somebody, a private fact otherwise unknown, on the basis of information not publicly available.
Any reporter could publish a story about the conflict between Ventura and Kyle — the alleged barroom confrontation at the heart of this lawsuit — and write that Kyle says X, Y and Z happened, including Ventura’s denials that any such confrontation occurred, without fear that his reporting could be construed as libelous.
Kyle’s problem was that, if his altercation with Ventura actually occurred, it was not a matter of public record. Nobody called the cops; there was no police report filed. In fact, it appears that Kyle’s editors at Harper Collins recognized the potential liability involved in publishing that anecdote, so that Kyle’s book referred to Ventura as “scruff face.” It was only in subsequent media interviews that Kyle himself said that Ventura was the subject of the anecdote, and thus the truth or falsehood of Kyle’s version of events — his claim that Ventura said vile things, and that he knocked Ventura down — was central to the defamation lawsuit.
The statements that Kyle attributed to Ventura are certainly consistent with Ventura’s general hostility to the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq. One can easily believe that if Kyle and Ventura got into a quarrel at a bar — and, it is important to note, Ventura does not deny that he was in that bar on the night in question — that Kyle would have taken a swing at Ventura, and it is plausible that the young man in his vigorous prime could have knocked down the older man with a single punch. However, to say that Kyle’s anecdote is credible is a different thing than saying it is provably true. And so it was arguably an unwise risk for Kyle to describe this alleged event as a fact — to assert private knowledge.
All that being said, I do not believe this case was correctly decided. In a defamation case, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant knowingly or recklessly published a falsehood. Based on what has been reported of the trial, Ventura and his witnesses cast doubt on Kyle’s story, but did not disprove it, as witnesses for the defense testified that Kyle told the truth.
If lawyers for Kyle’s estate appeal the case, I feel they have a good chance to overturn the verdict. Meanwhile, we are just days away from the next hearing in the Maryland case of Kimberlin v. Walker, et al., in which the Perjuring Pro Se Pipsqueak is suing me and four co-defendants for $1 million. The prayers and continued financial support of readers are most earnestly solicited.