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Billionaires and Corporations Love Anti-SLAPP Laws. Why Does John Oliver?
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John Oliver recently dedicated his HBO show to why we need a federal anti-SLAPP law. Like most of his stuff, the episode was witty and engaging. It was also sloppy, thoughtless and poorly researched. From now on, I’ll wonder whether I can trust anything he says.

An anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful legal maneuver available to defendants against libel and defamation lawsuits. In the 27 states that have them, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion brings everything to a halt until a judge, not a jury, decides various issues about a case. If the judge rules for the defense, the case is thrown out and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s legal fees.

Liberals and conservatives alike like anti-SLAPP. Supporters say they protect activists, whistleblowers and average individuals from being bankrupted if they get sued by deep-pocketed corporations or wealthy individuals who use the courts to harass their victims. In his show, Oliver described his experience being sued by a coal baron who wanted to chill criticism. HBO, Oliver said, spent $200,000 to defend him because the suit was filed in a state without anti-SLAPP.

It’s easy to see why someone like Oliver, targeted by a frivolous defamation claim, would yearn for a federal anti-SLAPP law. His must have been a frustrating experience.

There is, however, an inherent design flaw in anti-SLAPP: the United States Constitution. Under the equal protection clause, you can’t give rights to one class of defendant and not another. You can’t limit anti-SLAPP protections to impecunious individuals and small businesses; rich people and giant corporations have to get the same legal prerogatives.

Which is what has been happening. Billionaires and corporate conglomerates use anti-SLAPP to crush legitimate libel and defamation lawsuits filed by ordinary individuals and whistleblowers. Why don’t you hear about these cases? Because media companies love anti-SLAPP.

In 2016 The National Enquirer published a cover story about fitness headlined: “Richard Simmons: He’s Now a Woman.” He wasn’t. “Yes, This Photo Shoot Is Real!” It wasn’t. The cover photo of “transwoman” Simmons was Photoshopped.

Thanks to anti-SLAPP, what should have been an open-and-shut defamation case turned a travesty of justice into a farce. While acknowledging that the paper lied about Simmons, Los Angeles judge said that letting Simmons case go forward was tantamount to saying that it is bad to be trans. Simmons was an innocent victim and the Enquirer knowingly lied. Yet the court ordered Simmons to pay American Media, owner of the paper, $130,000 in legal fees. So much for anti-SLAPP as being a tool for the little guy! AMI brought in $310 million in revenues last year.

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In 2018, MSNBC host Joy Reid (Disclosure: I have appeared on Reid’s show) retweeted a photo of a Trump supporter yelling at a high school student at a Simi Valley, California, city council meeting. Reid added the following text: “He showed up to rally to defend immigrants. … She showed up too, in her MAGA hat, and screamed, ‘You are going to be the first deported’ … ‘dirty Mexican!’ He is 14 years old. She is an adult. Make the picture black and white and it could be the 1950s and the desegregation of a school. Hate is real, y’all. It hasn’t even really gone away.”

Hate is real. The story was not. The kid said that Roslyn La Liberte, the woman in the photo, was trying to keep things civil. She never said that stuff.

La Liberte’s son emailed to inform Reid of the truth. Reid nevertheless reposted the image, this time alongside a black-and-white image of pro-segregation protesters in Little Rock in 1957 with this caption: “It was inevitable that this image would be made. It’s also easy to look at old black and white photos and think: I can’t believe that person screaming at a child, with their face twisted in rage, is real. … History sometimes repeats. And it is full of rage.”

La Liberte was wronged. Rather than settle or plead guilty, MSNBC’s lawyers hit the working grandmother with an anti-SLAPP motion. Ignoring the fact that Reid’s posts easily qualify under as reckless disregard for the truth under the landmark libel case Sullivan v. New York Times (1964), the judge wallowed in pro-corporate sophistry: the juxtaposition of the photographs does not ‘make clear that (La Liberte) is alleged to have engaged in specific racist conduct akin to that demonstrated during desegregation.'” La Liberte’s case was thrown out, denying her justice. Adding injury to insult, she has to pay MSNBC’s legal fees. MSNBC is owned by NBC Universal, a $203 billion company.

President Donald Trump used anti-SLAPP against Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who sued him for calling her a liar. Trump is worth $3 billion. Daniels owes him $293,000 for his legal fees.

My readers are familiar with my case against the Los Angeles Times. No one disputes that they lied about me, fired me as a favor to the LAPD and tried to destroy my journalistic reputation. My anti-SLAPP case is still working its way through the court system, but there is already a $330,000 judgment against me. They want me to pay that money to two billionaires, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and LA schools superintendent and former Times publisher Austin Beutner, with a combined net worth of $16 billion.

Bill Cosby has been using the anti-SLAPP statute against his rape victims.

Faced with these cases, anti-SLAPP apologists sometimes say that the law isn’t bad, that it is simply being abused. If a law is written in such a way that it can be routinely abused, it is bad by definition.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Judicial System 
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  1. Appreciated this article

  2. Svevlad says:

    This is the kind of shit that causes revolutions – not some marxist beliefs and such ninny nanny, but the wish of the people to have these sacks o shit khmer rogue and ustashe tier tortured to death

  3. SteveK9 says:

    Immediately after Donald Trump’s election, John Oliver engaged in the most vulgar, hate-filled tirade I had ever seen in public (or private for that matter). I’m not a big Trump supporter (although relative to his enemies he’s a saint) but as far as I am concerned Oliver branded himself a piece of filth.

    • Replies: @Altai
  4. Altai [AKA "Altai_4"] says:

    John Oliver is literally married to a neocon propagandist he met at the RNC.

    Oliver lives in New York City with his wife Kate Norley, an Iraq War veteran who served as a United States Army medic. Oliver has said that they met at the 2008 Republican National Convention; he was doing a piece for The Daily Show and Norley was campaigning with Vets for Freedom. She and other veterans hid Oliver, the other correspondents, and the camera crew from security. The two married in October 2011. Together, the couple has two sons, one born prematurely in 2015 and one born in 2018. Oliver occasionally wears a 1st Cavalry Division lapel pin – his wife’s unit in Iraq.

    His wife is a former field medic who was the pretty face of the John McCain-connected ‘Vets for Freedom’ (Read: Vets for more wars!) who attacked Obama during the same campaign over his acknowledgement of the madness of the Iraq war.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vets_For_Freedom

    The hell Oliver and her talk about I don’t know. But she is extremely pretty, so I suppose using vets as props to support wars of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands is cool with a guy as pathetic as Oliver (His eyes just scream weakness and capitulation) if she sleeps with him. If that sort of background doesn’t morally disgust John Oliver based on what he says are his principals, then I suspect his principals, if any, are actually different.

  5. Altai [AKA "Altai_4"] says:

    Everything about the experience of countries that robust anti-libel laws tells the same tale, it becomes a way for the elite to get away with their crimes going uncovered in the media.

  6. Altai [AKA "Altai_4"] says:
    @SteveK9

    They couldn’t see that they weren’t attacking Trump for his faults but what the general public considered his virtues, his being avowedly (If not always in reality in office) anti-neocon, anti-immigration and anti-globalisation. That’s what triggered them. Not his deregulation, tax breaks or even his global warming denialism. They were appalled that people were even given the choice about these policies.

    And people weren’t stupid, they could see this, they could see what they were taking personally and what they weren’t. We see the same with Tulsi and Bernie. Where were the late night hosts when Bernie suffered a pre-emptively coup in the primaries in 2016, handing the presidency to Trump? Why is the attractive, charismatic, mixed race young woman from Hawaii who has lots of good photo-ops surfing and a total monopoly on anti-neocon foreign policy getting so little coverage?

    The fact that Ellen is now BFFs with the war criminal who bailed out the banks George Bush is actually staggering even to me, they genuinely consider immigration restriction as profoundly more evil than the Iraq war. That just stuns me.

    • Agree: European-American
  7. Exile says:

    The loser-pays element of many laws including anti-SLAPP is the pretty poison pill Big Money uses to turn well-intentioned laws into brickbats vs. the proles. Attorney fee damage awards look nice on paper but in practice can be used as “lawfare” just as easily as any other tactic. Rich guys tend to win because they lawyer up and crush the opposition with paper. Giving them the right to bankrupt the loser in the bargain is overkill.

    Pre-discovery anti-SLAPP, as in California, usually means the guys with the prettier pleadings and better connections at the courthouse win on rhetoric alone, with the original plaintiff being unable to conduct meaningful discovery to help prove the merits of his case to begin with.

    Making the remedy for frivolous lawsuits the filing of more lawsuits is logically flawed from the start, a form of legal iatrogenics. More of the same bad medicine will just make the patient sicker. For those of us who work in law, the analogy to medieval “leeching” is uncomfortably accurate.

    SLAPP suits will always be with us. The anti-SLAPP cure, at least in present practice, is worse than the disease.

  8. Eighthman says:

    In balance, isn’t anti-SLAPP a step forward? Very flawed but aren’t SLAPP suits more dangerous to society (as inhibiting protest, reporting corporate crime) than Anti-SLAPP injuries?

    I would think that amending Anti-SLAPP laws to demand public retractions would fix most of the problem. Not perfect but better.

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