Defamation suits are hard to win. And to a great extent, that’s a good thing; it’d be a terrible thing if litigation could cow the media out of reporting on the rich, famous and powerful, as it does in the UK.
In the US, defamation is, loosely, saying something false about someone in public that can damage their reputation and livelihood. If the target is a public figure, the defamer has to know it’s a lie. The standards – actual damages, provable malice – are intentional, and largely a good thing.
And, says Hans Von Spakowski, a surmountable level of proof in Nick Sandman’s defemation case against CNN:
Since Sandmann would not be considered a “public figure” under applicable Supreme Court precedent, he doesn’t have to prove that CNN knew the statements were false, just that they were false. Sandmann’s lawyers make a strong case, though, that CNN acted with “actual malice” and that the network’s behavior was so “outrageous and willful” and such a violation of basic journalistic standards that punitive damages should be awarded.
Interestingly, one of the lawyers representing Sandmann is Lin Wood, the same lawyer who represented Richard Jewell. Jewell was the security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics who was wrongly accused by CNN and other media companies of bombing the city’s Olympic Park. When CNN was sued for defamation, it agreed to pay Jewell an undisclosed amount. That settlement came shortly after NBC agreed to pay Jewell a reported half-million dollars.
Increasingly, our media seems to be acting like a law unto itself. That needs to change.