from the what's-good-for-the-goose dept
Remember James Woods? The Hollywood actor sued a Twitter troll for $10 million, claiming defamation, because that troll had sarcastically referred to Woods as a "cocaine addict." Woods, of course, has a long history of mixing it up on Twitter with lots of people, including saying things almost identical to what he sued over:
Throughout the case, Woods continued to make it abundantly clear to the world that he is a horrible person. Specifically, during the course of the case, the (anonymous) defendant unexpectedly passed away, leading Woods to gloat about the guy's death, after first claiming that the reason the appeal in the case was dropped was because he was winning the case:
Not only that, but even after the defendant passed away and the case was dropped, Woods continued the lawsuit and forced the opposing side to reveal the name of the anonymous Twitter user who so enraged Woods.
Of course, as we've said time and time again, people should be very careful in gleefully taking down the rights of others, because you never quite know when that same sort of thing might boomerang back around. Case in point: the Hollywood Reporter notes that James Woods is being sued for defamation... over some of his tweets. The lawsuit, seeking $3 million, and brought by Portia Boulger, claims that Woods defamed her and then was insincere in his apology:
This all started in March 2016, after the Chicago Tribune posted a campaign rally photo of a woman who was wearing a Trump T-shirt and giving a Nazi salute — the well-known 'Heil Hitler' salute with her right hand raised straight up — and several Twitter users misidentified the woman in the picture as Boulger, according to the complaint. Woods tweeted the photo from his verified account and wrote, “So-called #Trump ‘Nazi’ is a #BernieSanders agitator/operative?”
After Boulger's attorneys contacted the actor, he deleted the tweets and wrote a new series of them that were meant to be a retraction. However, two of the three apology tweets were untrue, according to Boulger.
A March 23 tweet by Woods reads: “Ms. Boulder [sic] has reached out to me and asked me to use my many followers to stop people from harassing her. I am more than happy to do so.”
That was followed by another: “Though she supports @BernieSanders, I am happy to defend her from abuse. I only wish his supporters would do the same for other candidates.”
You can read the full lawsuit here if you're interested.
Now, here's the thing: while there's obviously the emotional appeal of seeing Woods hit with the same kind of lawsuit that he saddled someone else with, this lawsuit appears to be just as misguided, if not worse. I know (first hand...) that some people think that it's okay to cheer on bogus lawsuits against people you dislike, but some of us have principles. Bogus defamation lawsuits are an affront to free speech, whether they're brought against people we like or not. And this certainly looks like a bogus defamation lawsuit. I hate to say it, because I'm sure Woods will continue to gloat and never realize the contradictions if he does, but Woods should win this lawsuit easily.
The original tweet may be borderline, but it would be quite difficult to argue that Woods posted it with actual malice, defined as knowledge that the information was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth -- which is the standard necessary if Boulger is deemed a public figure, which seems likely in this case (Boulger is a political activist and that's a big part of what the dispute is about). Yes, the tweet misidentified her, but hard to argue that it could pass the bar to be defamation. The fact that Woods then deleted the tweet after being informed that he was wrong, and posted the follow up tweets helps his case as well, even if Boulger's lawyers attack those tweets too. Here's what the complaint says about them:
The second and third of these tweets were false, insulting and demeaning as Ms. Boulger never asked Mr. Woods to “reach out to my many followers to stop people from harassing her.” Rather, Ms. Boulger, through counsel, had demanded a retraction and apology.
Yeah... that's such a difference of degree that there's almost no way it will be seen as defamatory. Furthermore, "insulting and demeaning" is not defamation, nor is it against the law. Unfortunately for Woods, Ohio, where the case is filed has no anti-SLAPP law as far as I can tell. So this case becomes yet another example of why a federal anti-SLAPP law is important. Of course, Woods could try to move the venue or push for California's anti-SLAPP law to apply, since he's a resident of California.
In certain ways, this case actually has a fair number of similarities to the Katie Hopkins Twitter defamation lawsuit in the UK that we wrote about earlier this week. We noted in that story how different UK and US defamation law can be, but also noted that Hopkins was widely disliked, and thus many people who otherwise tend to be good on free speech issues were celebrating her "loss." One hopes that on this one people can remain above that sort of thing, and recognize that if you support true freedom of expression, then this case must fail, even if you don't like James Woods, or were furious at him for filing his own wacky defamation case over tweets not too long ago.