Monday, October 19, 2009

Sue, Rush, Sue

Rush Limbaugh lost his bid to be a minority owner of a NFL team, the hapless St. Louis Rams.

Rush’s desire was a non-starter as he encountered an outpouring of opposition from civil rights leaders, NFL players, and the Director of the NFL Players Association. Rush was subjected to a series of derisive attacks before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated Rush would be too divisive as a NFL owner.

Current NFL players include an acquitted murderer, a convicted animal abuser, sexual attackers, and spousal abusers. NFL owners have included gamblers and racists, but Rush is too divisive.

After his comments about Donovan McNabb on ESPN, Rush was terminated by ESPN and labeled a racist by some.

Certain statements attributed to Rush reinforced the impression by some that Rush Limbaugh is a racist.

Herein lies the rub.

Rush is a public figure who vigorously competes in the arena of ideas. He does not mince words for those he opposes. Feminists are “Femi-Nazis, environmentalists, “environmental wackos,” and the mainstream media, the “drive by media.” One of the songs he likes to play on his show is “Barack the Magic Negro.” He thrives upon his opponents’ attacks. He has proven over 2 decades that he can dish it out as well as receive. He makes fun of the names of his political opponents. He’s essentially declared war on the Mainstream Media.

Just as he shows the drive byes no mercy, they respond in kind. If he loses his ESPN gig for stating that the media wants Donovan McNabb to succeed because they want a black quarterback to succeed in the NFL, the media echo the sentiment that his is a racist statement. And if he has a prescription drug addiction problem, they exult.

But this is different, for he is being accused of racism, a damaging charge, based upon statements he never made. He must respond to the calumny in a manner that it will not be repeated by the media in future issues.

As we know, if a political lie is repeated often enough, it becomes the truth.

Rush is alleged to have said: “You know who deserves a posthumous medal of honor? James Earl Jones. We miss you James. Godspeed.”

The second statement is “I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: Slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back. I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”

The quotes are in a 2006 book by Jack Huberman, "101 People Who Are Really Screwing America." Huberman provides a general reference to a source which never used those statements.

Thus, the presumption is that Huberman fabricated the libelous statements.

Public figures normally don’t sue for defamation. The odds of winning are small, and a suit would simply provide more publicity to the defamer.

A public figure has a high burden of proof to win a libel suit. The statements must be made with knowledge of their falsity or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.

A fabricated statement meets that standard.

But the plot thickens. The quotes actually appeared in WikiQuotes months before the Huberman book was published. No reference is provided, but the IP source of the quotes is from a major law firm, Patterson Belknap. We assume the firm is trying to track down the fabricating poster.

Public figures, such as Limbaugh, can respond to defamation through the media, such as press conferences, press releases, and op eds. In Rush’s case, he has three hours to daily fulminate on the air with a live feed in front of his audience of 20,000,000 believers.

That’s not enough though. He must put these defamatory statements to rest for good. Denials and denunciations won’t suffice. Only a definitive legal decision that these statements are false and defamatory will serve to deter media figures from repeating these charges in the future.

This time, preaching to his loyal followers will not suffice. He must appeal to the broader American public, who might otherwise believe these statements.

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