from the john-slappsel dept
You may recall that a year ago, pretend libertarian, John Stossel, who talks a big game about free speech and the “marketplace of ideas,” decided to sue Meta/Facebook and some of its fact checking partners for, oh right, daring to fact check him in a way he didn’t like. For this job, he hired the Dhillon Law Group, which has become the recent go to law firm for nonsense grievance-inspired SLAPP suits (their name keeps showing up in so many of these lawsuits).
Anyway, the lawsuit went exactly as well as expected, which is… the court has just thrown it out completely, said there’s no use amending it, and granting Meta’s anti-SLAPP filing as well. Just bang up job all around, Stossel.
As you’ll recall, the lawsuit was about Stossel getting his “marketplace of ideas” panties all in a bunch because Facebook placed a fact check on a nonsense video he did about climate change, and Stossel was suddenly no longer so interested in the marketplace of ideas. He had to bring in the state to punish those who dared to say things he didn’t like. The video in question was about forest fires in California, and spoke to someone who argued that climate change is “not the primary cause” of the rash of forest fires in California in 2020.
Facebook, as it’s been known to do, had its fact checking partners, Climate Feedback (run by Science Feedback) review the video, where they noted that it was “missing context.” Facebook then placed a notice with the video saying that it was missing context, and noting that “independent fact-checkers say this information is missing context and could mislead people.” If people clicked through they were taken to a fact checking page on Climate Feedback’s site that was a more general explanation of why claims that forest fires are due to poor management, rather than climate change, are misleading.
There was then another video that also got a fact check, this one with clips of a debate he moderated about climate change. In the video Stossel talks about “environmental alarmists” and plays down their concerns. Again, this video got a similar fact check regarding some misleading claims.
Stossel took all of this personally, and insisted that this fact check defamed him (he claims that he wasn’t suing about the “missing context” label, just the underlying fact check). But, John, that’s not how the marketplace of ideas works. And the court has now made that clear.
First, the court notes that for the “fire” video, while Stossel claims that the video defamed him, the fact check was about the entire video not just the claims made by Stossel, and the fact check is accurate regarding other claims made by people in the video:
Second, nothing in the text associating the “claim” that “[f]orest fires are caused by poor
management[,] [n]ot by climate change” with the Fire Video implies that Mr. Stossel himself
made such a claim. On its face, the challenged text implies or asserts that such a claim is made in
the video. A reviewer could reasonably conclude that such a claim is made in the video. For
example, the video includes the following passages:
Shellenberger: Climate change is real. It’s not the end of the world.
It’s not our most serious environmental problem.
Stossel: And it’s not the main cause of the California fires.
Stossel: If not climate change, what is to blame?
[Cartoon clip of Smokey the Bear saying, “Only you can prevent
Stossel: Foolish policies. . . .
Stossel: Climate has made things worse. California’s warmed three
degrees over 50 years. But—
Shellenberger: You could have had this amount of warming and not
had these fires and the reason we know that is because the forests
that were well managed have survived the mega fires.
Stossel: It’s about time. Bad policies were the biggest cause of this
year’s fires, not the slightly warmer climate. And while climate
change is a problem, Shellenberger’s new book explains, it’s not an
But, of course, there’s a larger point: it’s all opinion. Opinion is not defamatory:
Even if the Court assumes, without finding, for purposes of this motion that this is so, the disputed
attribution nevertheless is not a statement of objective fact about Mr. Stossel or his reporting, but
rather the reviewer’s subjective interpretation of the Fire Video’s contents. A reviewer’s
assessment that Mr. Stossel was sympathetic to, or endorsed, the views expressed by Mr.
Shellenberger or otherwise in the Fire Video, and intended the video to communicate to his
viewers that “poor management” caused the fires, “not climate change,” is the kind of assessment
that is protected by the First Amendment as a statement of opinion
The same is true of the other video:
the Alarmism Article is a classic example of viewpoint expression, or opinion,
based on disclosed facts. See Yagman, 55 F.3d at 1439 (“A statement of opinion based on fully
disclosed facts can be punished only if the stated facts are themselves false and demeaning.”); see
also Herring Networks, 8 F.4th at 1159. The article identifies multiple examples of false
statements or factual inaccuracies in the Alarmism Video and explains why the reviewers judge
the statements to be false or inaccurate. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 28-3 (identifying statement made by
Professor Legates that sea levels have been rising for 20,000 years and probably will continue, and
observing that this is “imprecise and misleading, as it implies sea levels have continued rising since
then and current sea level rise is just a continuation of past natural fluctuations”; identifying statement
by Patrick Michaels that “hurricanes and other storms” are not “getting worse” and that “there is no
relationship between hurricane activity and the surface temperature of the planet,” and that Michaels is
“cherry-picking a single measure of hurricane activity and ignoring the broader corpus of scientific
research.”) Mr. Stossel identifies no facts in the Alarmism Article that he contends are false.
Defendants’ critique of the Alarmism Video reflects a subjective assessment of the contents of the
video and is not capable of being proved true or false.
The court doesn’t even need to get to the fact that Stossel was unlikely to ever be able to show actual malice. It also doesn’t even need to get to the Section 230 bit, which Meta raised in defense of its fact checking efforts. Because why bother when the fundamental complaint is so SLAPPtastically ridiculous?
So, on to the anti-SLAPP argument. Here, the defendants argued that the case was a SLAPP suit and the court agrees:
For the reasons described above, Mr. Stossel cannot show a probability of success on the
merits of his defamation claim because he fails to state a claim for defamation under the Rule
12(b)(6) pleading standard
I’m pretty sure this means that the defendants could ask Stossel to pay their legal fees now…
Stossel also asked the court to allow him to amend the complaint if the court was going to dismiss it, but the court says there’s basically no way to turn this into a legitimate complaint:
He does not describe the
amendments he proposes to make. In any event, even if he had, the Court is not persuaded that
Mr. Stossel could make any amendments that would remedy the critical deficiency the Court
identifies above—i.e., that the challenged statements are not actionable as false statements of
objective fact. The record before the Court includes not only the allegations of the complaint, but
also the videos in question and the entirety of the challenged statements, all of which are
incorporated by reference in the complaint. For this reason, the Court finds that any amendment
of the pleadings would be futile because no additional allegations could alter the nature of the
underlying statements challenged as defamatory.
Stop filing bullshit SLAPP suits folks.
Filed Under: anti-slapp, california, climate change, defamation, free speech, john stossel, marketplace of ideas
Companies: meta, science feedback