Tag Archives: Bill Cosby

Billionaires and Corporations Love anti-SLAPP Laws. Why Does John Oliver?

Image result for austin beutner

Why does this multibillionaire need a cartoonist’s money?

            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. Does it involve a matter of public interest? Is there a chance the case would succeed at trial? 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 and 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 designed to tie him up in court and waste his employer’s lucre, 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. Happens a lot. Why don’t you hear about these cases? Because media companies love, love, 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. “Secret Boob & Castration Surgery,” the tabloid screamed, “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 him 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.

            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. B[ut] everyone one of them were. 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 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 the fact that they lied about me, fired me as a favor to the LAPD (which owned them at the time) and tried to destroy my journalistic reputation in order to send a chilling message to journalists who criticize the police. My anti-SLAPP case is still working its way through the court system—and things currently look good—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.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition

https://www.flotechinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/freshclam.jpg            From Clarence Thomas to Jerry Sandusky to Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, those who doubt their accusers always ask something similar to what Roy Moore said about those who accused him of sexual harassment and assault: “To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable.”

What takes so long? Why don’t alleged victims head straight to the police?

There are 17 good reasons in this great article.

Let me add two more that we don’t talk about enough: shame and fear of disbelief.

I’m not referring to the well-documented victims’ fear that they somehow brought the attack on themselves (for example, a woman who worries that she somehow sent mixed signals to a suitor who then raped her), but to something one rarely sees discussed in the media or talked about in typical conversations about victimhood.

Society doesn’t like victims. Victims make us uncomfortable. It’s probably a vestige of our Darwinian instinct for survival: the monkey clan prospers when its members are healthy and lucky, but finds life perilous around those who are sick and unfortunate. We turn away from the unlucky: the homeless man, the woman whose face bears burn scars, the black guy getting choked to death by cops. Not our business, not our problem, these are troubles to be avoided. I do it too.

This instinct goes double for those who refuse to soft-pedal their victimhood. Not even the most active social justice warriors have Rose McGowan’s back in her Twitter crusade against Harvey Weinstein — she’s a bit too angry for comfort. (Her recent drug arrest doesn’t help.)

I am not judging humanity here. I am trying to answer Roy Moore et al’s question. One of the answers is shame — the shame simply of being a victim in a shallow capitalist society that loves winners, hates losers and despises victims. Fake it to make it has a corollary: never let ’em see you sweat.

My friend Cole Smithey the critic told me a bit of film theory, after a character in a movie gets maimed (loses a hand, gets shot and acts shot, getting weaker and visibly bleeding, whatever), the audience stops liking and identifying with him or her. There are exceptions. Typically, however, a screenwriter will have a maimed character die, vanish or completely recover. Because no one likes a victim.

Getting fired and libeled by the LA Times reminded me of that anthropological truism. Immediately following my firing, I hardly heard from my fellow cartoonists. (That’s rare.) Friends resurfaced after I presented exculpatory evidence. A pair of taints (Loser and Liar) had been erased.

Then I sued the Times for defamation, and things tipped back. Some of my friends stayed true but others dumped me because they were scared that if they sided with me the Times and Tronc might deny them work, also because I’d gone Rose McGowan-y crusade-y. It’s true that the LAPD bought Tronc and the Times fired me for the LAPD, but it’s weird and anyway, no one likes a victim. Especially not an angry one.

Fear of not being believed is another underdiscussed yet potent inhibitor to victims considering whether to step forward, whether by filing a police report or going to the press.

I grew up poor with my single mom and we were short of money. To bring in some cash, my mom hooked me up with a job helping the janitor wash the blackboards after school at my junior high school. Looking back now, it was a situation perfect for an abuser: no one but an older male custodian and a 13-year-old boy in the otherwise empty building.

One afternoon the dude snuck behind me while I was working in a classroom and grabbed me, pinning my arms to my side. “Do you trust me?” he whispered in my ear. I remember his exact voice, the smell of his breath (alcohol, bourbon maybe). I felt his penis harden against my back.

I did not trust him.

But I told him I did, several times, and he believed me and let me go and I bounded exactly three steps toward the door, turned the knob and launched myself down the hall and flung myself down the stairs and hurled out the emergency exit, and I ran and ran and ran and it was so damn beautiful outside and I could hear the fire alarm ringing.

When my mom came home, I lied. I told her the job was over, the custodian no longer needed me.

Later a kid I didn’t know approached me at school. He might have been a year older. He asked me if I had worked for the dirty old janitor and whether he’d gone after me because the same thing had happened to him. I didn’t ask if he’d gone to the principal or told his parents and he didn’t ask me. It would have been the stupidest question in the world because no one would have believed us.

No one ever believed kids back then. About anything. The school administration wouldn’t have believed us about the English teacher who kept pot in his desk or the algebra teacher who seduced my friend or the driver’s ed instructor who grabbed my classmate’s breasts right in front of me and my best friend.

            We Gen X kids understood the world as it was: survival was up to us. Adults didn’t care; adults wouldn’t help. Decades later, when I told my mom that story, she admitted I was right. “I assumed you were lazy,” she said about my quitting the job.

If you’ve never been a victim of some kind, you may find this strange, but there is something worse than knowing (or suspecting) that you may not be believed, and that is coming forward and letting cops and courts and human resource officers decide for themselves, based on the evidence and their biases, whether they believe you or not.

As long as you keep your victimhood to yourself, you know your experience was real.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)