2019: The Year Devin Nunes Sued A Cow, And A Forty-Millionaire Sued US!
There's been a funny thing going on in the ol' U-S-A. Conservatives are really really really concerned about "free speech," because of how Antifa keeps murdering them with "concrete milkshakes" every time they try to throw a white power party, but don't worry, they got better. (Antifa has yet to actually murder any conservatives with the wholly fictional concrete milkshakes, but it's like when your husband is mean to you in your dream, you still get to be mad at him about it.)
But at the same time, conservatives are really really really NOT concerned about "free speech" when people say or tweet mean things that are absolutely protected First Amendment "opinion" and absolutely protected First Amendment "satire" going way back through many Supreme Court cases. Like, this shit is some settled-ass case law -- far more than your dumb "everyone gets a gun," which only goes back as far as 2008's Heller decision, and even Antonin Scalia said that didn't actually mean that you can have a fucking rocket launcher.
And that's why Devin Nunes sued a cow.
But don't worry, Devin Nunes didn't just sue a cow. He also sued a farmer. And he sued a reporter for "defamatory gist" -- that is, none of what Ryan Lizza said at Esquire was incorrect in any way, but maybe it made Devin Nunes look like an asshole. And how can that be possible in the home of the free and the land of the brave?
See, it all started way back in the Before Days, when weird billionaire Peter Thiel took a break from trying to become immortal in order to spend some time murdering the (very rude!) news outlet that had outed him. He secretly bankrolled attorney Charles Harder to comb through Gawker's archives, finding anything that might merit (or not merit) a libel suit. He sued them over Hulk Hogan's sex tape. He sued them on behalf of a hair extension company for true statements and (privileged) reporting on judicial proceedings. He sued them for that one guy who claimed to have invented email -- I mean that one guy who definitely for sure did invent email, in the late 1970s, and not that other kind of email that nerds had been using since 1971.
In other words, it was very targeted legal ... attention. Harder, with Thiel's money, was paying Gawker very targeted attention, suing them for libel over things that were not that. And of course, Gawker eventually succumbed.
A Quick Foray Back to the Past
Remember Terri Schiavo? She was the Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, whose husband, Michael, decided after eight of those years that she was not coming back. He requested her feeding tube be removed. The courts agreed and the Supreme Court declined to take the case. Her parents disagreed strenuously. The legislature passed a law allowing the governor to intervene in private family medical decisions. Jeb Bush, then Florida governor, ordered her feeding tube reinserted. Since it wasn't going their way in the state supreme court, Bush's brother the president worked with the Senate to transfer her case to federal courts. People were literally climbing over the walls of the hospice where Schiavo lay; they had to shut down the local elementary school. It was a Florida shitshow as only a Florida shitshow (see Gonzalez, Elian) can be.
The lawyer representing Schiavo's parents was Pamela Campbell, who would be appointed judge by Jeb Bush after the Schiavo case. She went on to preside over the Hulk Hogan Gawker case that eventually bankrupted the outlet, because every one of these rightwing fuckers pops up again and again like a malevolent Forrest Gump.
And that's all I have to say about that.
Opening Up the Libel Laws
For years before he became president, Donald Trump sued everyone who looked at him sideways. Whether he won or not (he never won), it was a way of unleashing pain on any reporters who would dig into the truth about him. Running for president, he promised to "open up the libel laws." It simply wasn't fair, he said, that news outlets could write things about him that he didn't like, due to the landmark Supreme Court decision New York Times v. Sullivan that said you have to really fuck up the reporting on a public official and you have to really pretty much lie on purpose in order to be sued for libel. Public figures didn't have it much better than public officials. And truth? Reporting facts that are true? Is an absolute proof against libel.
No, Donald Trump didn't like that at all. And he has a friend in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who in February of this year wrote a concurring opinion that out of nowhere called into question whether New York Times v. Sullivan was just some made-up bullshit ("yes," he said, "that's some made-up bullshit," or however you put it in Supreme Court-ese).
So we've all got that ticking time bomb to look forward to.
Enter the Bisser
Steven Biss, he's this guy. He's an attorney in ... Virginia I guess, since he keeps filing these really wacky lawsuits on behalf of Devin Nunes, who represents Fresno, California, in Congress against news companies that are also based in California, and he keeps doing it in Virginia, where neither the plaintiff nor the defendants are domiciled.
He's filed lawsuits on behalf of Nunes's former aide Kash Patel too.
And he has been coming up with novel arguments for these libel suits, like "defamatory gist" and saying that Politico reporter Natasha Bertrand conspired with Adam Schiff. That "lawsuit," in the words of our Liz, "dispenses with the Speech or Debate Clause and immunity for government witnesses testifying about their work by summarily concluding that, 'Schiff conducted the interviews like a Star Chamber or Kangaroo Court, and, in so doing, stripped the witnesses of any privilege or immunity from defamation that they may have enjoyed.'" That Speech and Debate Clause? That's not just some Supreme Court ruling from the hippie '60s. It's actually in the Constitution. I just double-checked!!! That's some balls on the Bisser!
So, you know, get ready for Clarence Thomas to take that one. Biss? He's been BISS-y!
God Bless the ACLU (SA)
See what I did there? I took that horrifying Lee Greenwood song and stuck the ACLU in the middle of it! Because for real, God bless them. In 2019 they saved our filet personally.
It was the mists of June. It had already been a bad morning. And then in my inbox came Wonkette's first-ever actual lawsuit. Not a besmirch statement. Not some hilarious threat from the guy who still owes Rachel Maddow twenty million clams. But an actual living, breathing, libel suit, from a living, breathing 40-millionaire with all the money in the world for lawyers, and we had gotten a fact wrong!!!1!!1!1
Because we got this fact wrong -- we had typed "felon" when in fact coal baron Don Blankenship had gone to prison on the misdemeanor of conspiring to violate mine safety standards which led to the deaths of 29 of his men, not to mention it was Obama's fault; we had done this once among the dozen times we correctly noted Don Blankenship had gone to prison on the misdemeanor of conspiring to violate mine safety standards which led to the deaths of 29 of his men -- we, for the first time ever, thought we might LOSE. I had edited the piece in question. "Felon not misdemeanant who conspired to violate mine safety standards which led to the deaths of 29 of his men" had simply gone right over my head.
WELL! The first thing I did, after writing a post wailing about it, was listen to our wise commenters and go to the courthouse to file a homesteading deed -- paperwork saying nuh uh you cannot take my house away, Don Blankenship, I just put solar panels on it! (You know, to personally fuck the coal industry.) And then I called the ACLU.
And goddamned if they didn't call me back, say "yes we'll be your lawyer pro boner," and then coordinate with attorneys for my alleged coconspirators ... Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the LA Times, the Washington Post, Donald Trump Junior, and the Fox News Judge.
So while the legal fees alone could have broken us regardless of what a West Virginia jury might say, if a West Virginia jury decided to get all Hulk Hogan up in it or decided "fuck Blankenship" ... there weren't any. Civilization, in the form of do-gooder attorneys, gathered us to its bosom and let us go about our usual business unruffled by what was happening in the courts, where we were victorious.
There's Always a But
Don't sleep on these fuckers: They're getting bold. Their attorneys have by definition passed law school and the bar, and yet they still file suits so frivolous they should be censured.
And you can't expect Trump's one million judges, some of whom seem like they were homeschooled, not to agree with them. Rightwing shitrag the Daily Mail already settled with Melania after reporting on the existence of a book that alleged she had been a paid floozy. That suit was brought on behalf of the First Lady by Charles Harder, the guy who killed Gawker.
Watch your Ps and Qs, and your felons and misdemeanants. And when you're done sending your Wonkette some money, don't forget to throw a bone to the ACLU too.
Rebecca Schoenkopf is the owner, publisher, and editrix of Wonkette. She is a nice lady, SHUT UP YUH HUH. She is very tired with this fucking nonsense all of the time, and it would be terrific if you sent money to keep this bitch afloat. She is on maternity leave until 2033.