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Beck’s Astounding Response to Defamation Suit

As I’ve noted before, Glenn Beck is being sued for defamation by a Saudi student he accused repeatedly of being the “money man” behind the Boston Marathon bombings, with not a shred of evidence. His response to that lawsuit is not surprising, but it’s pretty astonishing for its sheer chutzpah.

Broadcaster Glenn Beck, formerly of Fox News, was nonetheless suspicious of Alharbi. He thought the Obama administration was hiding Alharbi’s involvement. So three weeks later, Beck urged the government to release its information on Alharbi or else Beck would “expose” him.

“While the media continues to look at what the causes were [behind] these two guys, there are, at this hour, three people involved,” Beck said, alleging the U.S. government had “tagged” Alharbi as a “proven terrorist.” Over several broadcasts, Beck called Alharbi the “money man” behind the Boston bombings. “You know who the Saudi is?” Beck asked. “He’s the money man. He’s the guy who paid for it.”

What Beck said about Alharbi was untrue. Alharbi sued Beck for defamation in federal court in late March. And now, in a batch of little-noticed motions, Beck has lashed back, saying Alharbi is trying to “punish” and impede Beck’s First Amendment rights. Beck argues the bombings made Alharbi a “limited purpose” and “involuntary” public figure who must prove not just that Beck made false accusations, but that Beck did it with “actual malice.”

It’s no surprise that his lawyers would make that argument. Under that standard, whether or not Beck’s claims were false becomes almost irrelevant. In most cases involving public figures, malice is so hard to demonstrate that the matter rarely goes to trial.

First, however, Beck’s lawyers will have to convince a judge that Alharbi is indeed a public figure, albeit an involuntary one, someone who thrusts himself into the limelight.

What makes Alharbi a public figure, according to Beck? “By behaving suspiciously at the Marathon finishing line when the bombs detonated, thereby causing his detention and a background check by law enforcement,” states Beck’s motion to dismiss, Alharbi “embarked on a course of conduct that was reasonably likely to result in public attention and comment on his background, activities, and immigration status.” Plus, he gave interviews defending himself, said Beck’s legal team, led by Michael J. Grygiel.

Alharbi’s lawyers, led by Peter J. Haley, were incredulous at Beck’s argument. “An individual does not become a public figure due to the fact that he is investigated in connection with a crime, and then states publicly that he was not involved in the crime for which he was investigated.” To the extent Alharbi became known to the public, it was because of Beck’s “defamatory reporting.” They accused Beck of “bootstrapping,” creating his own defense by making a public figure out of Alharbi.

In other words: “He’s a public figure because I made him one.” And that “suspicious” behavior? He was fleeing the bomb site with his legs bleeding from having been hit by shrapnel. Wow, how suspicious that someone would want to get away in case there was another bomb. Man, I hope Beck gets hammered on this and loses millions.

Comments

  1. D. C. Sessions says

    Step one: a motion to find the argument for “public figure” frivolous. Perhaps by way of a motion for summary judgment on that particular point of law.

    Not only would it cut the rest of the trial a lot shorter, it would get Beck’s lawyers a good chance of being smacked with Alharbi’s expenses for dealing with a frivolous argument.

  2. Michael Heath says

    If I were on the jury I’d be advocating for billions in punitive damages, not mere millions. The latter works out to a trivial cost of doing business. Billions should have some impact on Beck and others who behave like Glenn Beck.

    Conservatives love to falsely claim they’re all for limited government, but they’ve largely stripped the rights of juries to dispense with justice, e.g., the Exxon Valdez case. And that’s in order to protect the favored classes from ‘we the people’ dispensing justice.

  3. says

    Man, I hope Beck gets hammered on this and loses millions.

    Good luck proving “actual malice”. Beck didn’t do it with malice. Beck doesn’t even care.

  4. raven says

    Beck’s Astounding Response to Defamation Suit

    It is not astonishing at all. It’s all he has!!!

    Beck isn’t overly concerned with or in contact with reality. But here it looks like reality is about run into him.

    Good luck proving “actual malice”. Beck didn’t do it with malice. Beck doesn’t even care.

    Can a rabid weasel, rattlesnake, or stinging jellyfish be capable of malice?

    Hmmm, Beck might be malevolent here. Not towards Alharbi, who is just a cartoon cutout in Beck’s murky world, like all people. He was and is motivated by hate towards Moslems and Islam!!! (Or as much hate as a jellyfish is capable of.)

    Either way it is no big deal for him. He is worth $100 million and a million or two for a settlement is a minor cost of doing business.

  5. D. C. Sessions says

    Y’all might want to look up the legal definition of “actual malice.” Like a lot of legal terms, it’s not what you would think from the usual English.

  6. D. C. Sessions says

    Thanks, dingo. Note that persisting in asserting a debunked claim goes a long way to establish “actual malice.”

  7. says

    Since your legal so-called “dictionary” doesn’t have a flag behind it with the correct fringe, it’s not a lawful legal dictionary and the words within are supermoot and unmagical.
    So don’t go quoting your legal so-called “dictionary” at me. I already know the only legal term I need to know*.

     
    * It’s “tubal cain”.

  8. raven says

    As per #6 and #7 from USlegal.com:

    USlegal.com:

    Actual Malice Law & Legal Definition

    Actual malice is a statement made with a reckless disregard for truth. Actual malice can be established through circumstantial evidence.

    High degree of awareness of falsity is required to constitute actual malice.

    1. Beck did make his statements with a reckless disregard for the truth. Everything Beck says is based on a “reckless disregard for truth. The truth and Beck aren’t in the same universe!!!

    2. “High degree of awareness of falsity is required to constitute actual malice.”

    This is going to be harder to establish. Beck doesn’t worry about whether something is true or false. He just babbles along without worrying about whether something is true, false or makes any sense at all.

    USlegal.com:

    One of the standards required for actual malice is that the plaintiff must demonstrate that the author in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication, or acted with a high degree of awareness of probable falsity. Such evidence can overcome a defendant’s insistence that it acted in good faith and with the honest belief that the statement was true.

    3. This is basically a restatement of point 2 above. Beck shows actual legal malice when he knows he is making false statements and makes them anyway.

    This is going to be hard to establish but not impossible. While Beck isn’t self aware enough to know anything, probably the standard would be more like a normal person should have known it is false.

  9. raven says

    I already know the only legal term I need to know*.

    * It’s “tubal cain”.

    Tubal Cain is so 2012.

    These days it is Benghazi!!!

  10. dingojack says

    The only reason I kinda know this is that two right-wing types here* ran afoul of a similar thing. In their case they could not establish they had taken ‘reasonable steps to establish the veracity of their claims’.
    Doesn’t stop ‘em, but it sure slows them down….
    Dingo
    ——-
    * radio shock-jock Alan Jones, and columnist Andrew Bolt

  11. rabbitscribe says

    This is controlling case law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gertz_v._Robert_Welch,_Inc. The Wiki doesn’t mention it, but the decision states, “Hypothetically, it may be possible for someone to become a public figure through no purposeful action of his own, but the instances of truly involuntary public figures must be exceedingly rare.” The Court unhelpfully chose not to expound any further.

    A later case relied on that passage: http://www.leagle.com/decision/19832150575FSupp1575_11847.xml/DAMERON%20v.%20WASHINGTON%20MAGAZINE,%20INC. Plaintiff was the sole air traffic controller responsible for a plane which crashed. A magazine stated he had been “assigned partial blame.” The court ruled that he was an involuntary public figure and since actual malice wasn’t proved he lost. He, “…by sheer bad luck, became embroiled through no desire of his own in the ensuing controversy.” Here’s a good case note: http://www.law2.byu.edu/lawreview/archives/1987/1/wal.pdf The general consensus is that subsequent cases have rendered the class “involuntary public figures” dead, or at least dormant until SCOTUS weighs in again. People who are NOT involuntary public figures include the wife of a public figure, a scientist getting federal grant money, and the nephew of Soviet spies. So, it’s possible that Beck wins. He has to get a court to buy the theory that the “sheer bad luck” of being the ATC responsible for a plane that crashed is the same as the “sheer bad luck” of being the victim of a terrorist attack and thrust into the public arena by the defendant. Probably not…

  12. John Pieret says

    For once I’m glad Beck has earned hundreds of millions. It means Alharbi will be able to collect millions of dollars once the Federal judge laughs his “defense” out of court.

  13. steve84 says

    It’s Glenn Beck. Unless we apply Hanlon’s Razor everything he does is done out of malice.

  14. lorn says

    In this particular case I don’t think it changes anything, and I hope Beck loses so decisively that his name and picture end up as standard fare in future law books, listed under failure. Has anybody else noticed how what Beck calls his occupation tends to cycle between journalist and entertainer depending of which is more advantageous at the time?

  15. raven says

    Over several broadcasts, Beck called Alharbi the “money man” behind the Boston bombings. “You know who the Saudi is?” Beck asked. “He’s the money man. He’s the guy who paid for it.”

    This might be relevant or not.

    1. How did Beck know Alharbi was the money man? He clearly wasn’t.

    2. I’ve tried to trace down the source of some of Beck’s wilder claims. AFAICT, he just makes them up as he goes along. The trail starts with Beck and ends there.

  16. lorn says

    I think Beck is operating on the level of popular racist memes. Saudi Arabia is associated with oil and money. So Alharbi, being Saudi, has to be the money man. Oil would also work, but it is harder figure it into the plot … so money it is.

    Racism 101. If he was Jewish he would have, presumably, arranged loans. Puerto Ricans, would have been assumed to have supplied knives. Any Mexican would have been involved in the plot in some way that involved stoop labor. Any Canadians, bacon.

    This is like finding out someone is from Chicago and assuming they butcher hogs for a living and have a tommy gun in the trunk of their car.

    This is a pretty fair description of how Beck thinks. He has a set of standard associations that always come out together. And they stay linked as he creates the story.

  17. dan4 says

    @18:”I think Beck is operating on the level of popular racist memes. Saudi Arabia is associated with oil and money. Alharbi, being Saudi,…”

    Uh, you mean “bigoted,” right? Being Saudi Arabian isn’t a “race.”

  18. says

    He has to get a court to buy the theory that the “sheer bad luck” of being the ATC responsible for a plane that crashed is the same as the “sheer bad luck” of being the victim of a terrorist attack and thrust into the public arena by the defendant. Probably not…

    Thanks for the case law. I knew there was some cases on the edge of the Limited Purpose Public Figure doctrine. The Dameron case is the most compelling for Beck, but even assuming that extremely loose standard I’d think the plaintiff here is distinguishable. An ATC, by virtue of his position, has to at least presume the potential to become a limited purpose public figure if he fails at his job. Does the private individual misidentified as a terrorist suspect presume he may become a limited purpose public figure by virtue of walking in public in an environment with closed circuit cameras (i.e., everywhere) and that tolerates the existence of assholes like Glenn Beck? That’s no standard at all, that’s a tautological trap.

  19. grumpyoldfart says

    Man, I hope Beck gets hammered on this and loses millions.

    My prediction: $10,000 maximum.

  20. says

    Beck calls his occupation tends to cycle between journalist and entertainer depending of which is more advantageous at the time?

    “None of the above?”

  21. brianl says

    “Your honor, please have mercy. After all, I am an orphan.”

    “Dude, WTF? You’re on trial for killing both your parents!”

  22. Artor says

    Raven, I take exception to one thing you said, “He is worth $100 million.” Beck is worth less than the scuzz I scraped off my shoe. He might have $100 million in assets, but he is worth nothing at all.

  23. Scott Simmons says

    All of the ‘actual malice’ discussion will hopefully be irrelevant–that’s the key point of the article. That’s necessary to prove in order to win a defamation suit if you’re a public figure, but not for an ordinary member of the public like Alharbi. Unless Beck’s lawyers manage to get the judge to agree that Alharbi is more like Paris Hilton than you or me, all that he’ll need to establish is that Beck’s claims were false, caused him harm, and that Beck negligently failed to investigate whether they were true or not before broadcasting them. Mostly a slam-dunk for the claimant …

  24. Matrim says

    Uh, you mean “bigoted,” right? Being Saudi Arabian isn’t a “race.”

    Yes it is.

    From Wikipedia:

    Race is a classification system used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation. First used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations, in the 17th century, people began to use the term to relate to observable physical traits.

    Emphasis mine

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