Statutes of Limitations

October 25, 2012

Contributed by Charles Platt

For two weeks, now, UK residents have been stunned by an avalanche of revelations–or at least accusations–regarding the BBC and one of its most famous, nationally revered figures, Sir Jimmy Savile, a disc jockey who hosted shows over a period of decades. Savile endeared himself to the British by doing charity work for hospitals, and was even given his own little room at one, allowing him free access to the entire facility. Apparently he used this access to molest young people, many of them under the age of consent, when they were incapacitated or in wheel chairs. I’m reminded of Willie Sutton’s famous quote, explaining that he robbed banks because “that’s where the money was.” Savile appears to have volunteered at a hospital because “that’s where the helpless young girls were.” The appearance of cold-blooded premeditation is remarkable.

He was also a frequent visitor to a “reform home” for “troubled young girls,” some of whom he would take for rides in his Rolls Royce, where the self-described victims have alleged that sex acts occurred in the back seat. Several hundred women have now come forward with allegations. One BBC executive has already resigned, while others are finding it difficult to claim that they knew nothing. Contemporaries of Savile who are still alive, especially in the music-broadcasting section of the BBC, are being named as co-conspirators. Savile seems to have gotten away with it because he was protected by his fame, his wealth, and his charitable donations to the very places where he has been accused of preying on innocents. Others who worked with him are much more vulnerable, even though they may be now in their 70s and 80s.

Since Savile is now dead, the British press is relatively free to run with this story, despite the strict libel laws in the UK. Journalists have been far more circumspect about naming living suspects–until they issue statements of denial, at which point they become “fair game.”

More interesting to me (but less relevant to this blog) is that there is no statute of limitations on serious sex crimes in the UK. Since many of the alleged events occurred in the 1970s, a defendant may have a hard time coming up with exculpatory evidence to refute the allegations of a sobbing alleged victim in a court room. A blog here claims that in Germany, claims from victims dropped by 80% when that nation discontinued its practice of awarding compensation to crime victims, except where there was corroborative evidence. The same blog claims that, conversely, in Britain, where compensation is paid to victims, claims of abuse that occured decades ago have doubled during the past three years, coincidentally with the economic downturn. 

A statute of limitations may seem intuitively unjust to many people. If the crime occurred, why should someone get away with it just because it happened more than, say, 7 years ago? I note that in some areas of the US, limitations have already been abolished or modified for sex offenses, thus copying the British model.

I am assuming that readers of this blog would distrust any further erosion of statutes of limitations, especially if such protection was reduced or eliminated in First Amendment cases.

Or would they?


Note to self: Stop doing this

April 16, 2012

By J. DeVoy

A Northern Ohio man is being charged with theft because he met up with a girl on a blind date and left in a disgusted rush – and apparently neither the girl nor the two friends she towed along (in true Hungry Hungry Hippos fashion) had the means to pay.

The upshot:

Police charged Daniel J. Robinson, 23, of Sheffield Village, with theft saying he promised to pay for the three guests meals at Champps Americana in Crocker Park. He then stepped out for a phone call and never returned, leaving his date with the bill and “no means to pay,” Westlake police said. (source)

So, feminists, explain this to me: Women are so strong, empowered, better than men and more employable, making more money – yet between these three, they couldn’t muster up $95?  Pick a narrative and stick to it: Either women are helpless and men need to be punished so that their suffering is not perpetual, or they’re on top of the world thanks to two decades of insipid grrl power training.  Logically, you cannot have both.

Hopefully there is an attorney in Ohio that will represent this man pro bono.  I’d also like to contribute to his legal defense fund.  Here’s why:

• There is a huge problem of evidence.  The three girls all have an incentive to say he was going to pay, even if that wasn’t the case.  More to the point, why were there three girls there?  Having seen what girls in Northern Ohio look like, I would have turned tail and ran as well if they showed up and expected me to finance their nightly feeding at the trough.

• What were the terms of the date agreement?  Why were none of the other three capable of paying?

• As someone who routinely walk(s/ed) out on girls who are not as attractive as I remember, or who are more than half a point below their photo(s) on a ten-point scale, getting a criminal record for deciding my time is better spent writing a research memo or blog post, or just doing nothing instead of hanging out with a ninja-fattie or secret single mom, scares the crap out of me.  My normal method on a first meeting is to bring cash and not leave a tab open.  But even then, if they have my name or phone number, they can make up some bullshit story for the LVMPD about how I said I’d pay for her to go out and shower her with affection and money, and I’d get arrested for theft when I decided I’d rather play Call of Duty than be seen in public with someone who misstated her weight by sixty pounds.

My longstanding advice for guys who ask about getting a bait-and-switch on a blind date or online meeting has been to just walk away.  The reason is shame.  Shame is a powerful motivator, and one that has been exorcised from society because of mob rule by sissies who believe the only mortal sin is making someone feel bad.  Oh, their poor wittle feewings!  How they must burn!

But now we have entered a new paradigm where being a man and disregarding someone who lied to you about something important – her age, her weight, her child(ren) – carries potentially criminal consequences.  My advice has always been to get up and leave without saying a word when you’ve been deceived.  Being ignored, without explanation, is like a knife to the soul to someone who thinks they’ve landed their meal ticket for the night.  Without that kind of rejection, the mediocre women of America - who think that becoming manly, rather than effeminate, is desirable – will learn to reverse course.  What’s next, getting sued for breach of implied oral contract when you leave after one drink because you’re trying to be polite, when she expected you to finance a bender?  Screw that.

Apparently Daniel Robinson sent “derogatory texts” to his date later that night (source).  I neither advise nor condone that, and it stinks of him being a bitter beta.  I’m therefore hesitant to support him – he should have left before ordering anything anyway.  But, the climate set by this warrant’s issuance is a chilling one indeed.

H/T: Roosh.


Critics say ‘sexist trousers’ hit below the belt

March 18, 2012

#SexistTrousers was trending on Twitter this week, with many up in arms about the care instructions on a pair of pants. (Source.) The subject of their ire was a label on chinos that first gave the typical cleaning instructions for 100 percent cotton pants, followed up with the remark, “Or Give It To Your Woman. It’s Her Job.”

The purchaser of the pants bought them from Madhouse, a retailer in the UK. Floods of tweeters complained about the pants, vowing never to shop at the store again. One woman was quoted as saying, “Lately I can’t tell which decade I’m living in. What brand are those trousers?! I can only assume that’s a joke.” The company later released a statement saying that it had not been aware of the label before this point.

“I can only assume that’s a joke”? Of course, it’s a joke! The first time I saw the label, I laughed. The tag is hardly offensive to the level of boycotting the brand or the store. In fact, if a guy of mine had these pants, it would probably be an endless inside joke we both could share time and again without it getting old and brought us closer. Lighten up a bit, ladies.

Besides, in my house, it’s always been the person who has the most pairs of underwear doesn’t have to do the laundry–a domestic game of chicken. I always win.


Feminist War of 2012

March 16, 2012

By Tatiana von Tauber

I’m embarrassed to be an American woman with witness to the current state of the Union.

Being a woman is without a doubt the most difficult process of becoming I’ve ever undertaken especially since I began my role as a mother 14 years ago. Nothing prepares you for the experience of motherhood better than truth and so I feel the same about the future of young girls in America.  There are many I know who were totally lost in the wake of the conservative pool of stupidity in the days of GWBush and his side’s abstinence education policies in American schools.  There is an entire generation of kids who are completely misinformed about birth control and sex because of religion.

More and more I feel battered by having the feeling women were given erotic beauty for reproductive purposes – that selfish gene – and then, as though being whores weren’t enough, women were thrown into the immature flatlands of male needs where they were then expected to create synthesis. However, a bit of a power struggle later, women became those to not only seduce, but birth, nurture and support an entire family, if not society yet be given “jump for the carrot” freedom on body parts – by the very men they birthed!  How did America come to be like this? If American politics continue to enter the domain of a female’s sex life,  America has little to offer women of the next generation.

I’m drained from realizing Congress is really a bunch of men who can’t get their heads out of the female genitalia.  If they don’t pay to get in one they pay for others to stay out of one!  For the men who are playing around with this issue, women are only a piece of ass and little more, except maybe for their little girls who are a piece of ass for the boy next door. For women who support recent attacks on female rights in the name of being faithful to a God, I have no words, only disgust.

Reproductive rights, the womb, women’s health – all of it has to do with the absolute power this birth right gives to women; and patriarchy has never been stronger in modern America! As an American I am so appalled at this downfall of this great nation – that the womb and its ownership, the vagina and a woman’s health are on the table of political discussion rather than the real issues that need immediate attention, it all makes me want to throw up on Congress.

The bottom line to all this rhetoric is this: women have the power to veto men through sex and men don’t like that. Thank you Dr. Leonard Shlain for helping me understand this through your wonderful work, Sex, Time and Power (may you rest in peace) but how about a little help down here with the rest of the blind folks, eh?

The last time I checked, my kidney belonged to me and nobody could force me to do anything specific with it.  The main reason the womb is different is because it controls males’ sex lives.  The fact that women are under attack, in America, in 2012 stuns me.

Here’s my contribution to the debate: “Feminist War of 2012″.  I designed this back in 2007 or so and struggled with a proper title.  The Image just found its perfect match and almost sadly, its perfect time.

"Feminist War of 2012", ltd. ed. Giclee, 13"x19" by Tatiana von Tauber

Bonus material to chew on: 

Speaking of controlling women, this is an example of how women get screwed by men and the baby fantasy and how media uses them to make money to help glorify the chaos and continue the cycle.  See Kate Gosselin, mother of 8 now.

Great post and kick ass quote: The Body Politic, “This campaign needs more women and less gynecology” – Virginia Heffernan


CNN Debate: Should FCC Boot Rush Limbaugh From the Airwaves?

March 12, 2012

On the side of kicking him off the air, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem.

On the side of protecting his right to free speech, Marc J. Randazza.

This is not the same debate over whether the subject of his diatribe has a valid defamation claim against him. I wrote about that here.


For the Last Time, NO, Sandra Fluke does not have a valid defamation claim against Rush Limbaugh

March 6, 2012

Why we have a First Amendment; Show Your Love for It

When I hear Rush Limbaugh’s voice, I want to vomit. I despise just about everything that pill-addled, hate-spewing, disgusting piece of human tripe has ever said. The thought of him being thrown off the air and silenced forever makes me swoon with joy. A man can dream, after all.

But, as a First Amendment lawyer, nay First Amendment fetishist, I realize that when I feel this way about a speaker, it is time for me to make sure that I am acutely protective of that speaker’s right to peddle his wares in the marketplace of ideas. Whether it is the Ku Klux Klan, Mike (the Situation” Sorrentino, the American Nazi Party, Glenn Beck, Gail Dines, the Westboro Baptist Church, The Jonas Brothers, Ann Bartow, Creed, Jack Thompson, or anyone else whose stall in the marketplace of ideas smells as if a hungover bull who had eaten too many spoiled Jamaican beef patties took a crap in it, I take a deep breath and for a small and twisted moment, I savor the aroma. The speech that tests our commitment to free speech – that’s the really good stuff. That’s the stuff that we need to affix shields, sharpen swords, and stand next to our brothers and sisters in arms to protect.

I Must Defend Rush Limbaugh

It is for the above reason that I must stand up to defend Rush Limbaugh. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer came out and said that Sandra Fluke should sue Limbaugh for defamation for famously calling her a “slut.” (source). And a Philadelphia attorney, Max Kennerly, told his local newspaper that he thinks Fluke has a case. (source)

She has no such thing, and shame on those who say that she does. It isn’t that Rush Limbaugh needs to be shielded from these barbs. It isn’t that Sandra Fluke actually might be emboldened to sue. The problem with these uneducated and erroneous statements about the viability of such a suit is that they act like a blizzard wind blowing through the marketplace of ideas. They spread misinformation among the proletariat, who didn’t have the benefit of an education in Constitutional law, and consequently believe Fluke might have a claim based on Rush’s impolitic statements. And the next time one of these moronic proles gets butthurt about something someone says, they’ll be right on the phone to the closest bottom feeding lawyer they can find. (Example)

Spreading ignorance about defamation law makes the marketplace of ideas just that much more chilly, just that much more dangerous, and just that much more likely to be hit with a bomb by some opportunistic ambulance-chaser teamed up with a thin-skinned professional victim so that he or she can get paid for his or her mere “butthurt.” Butthurt is not defamation. Butthurt is butthurt, and you don’t get paid for that in the United States of America. Not on my watch.

Sandra Fluke is a Public Figure

When you purposely inject yourself into public debate, you lose your status as a “just minding my own business” private citizen.

When a plaintiff alleging defamation is a public figure, he or she must show that the allegedly false statements were made with actual malice – that is, knowing falsity, or a reckless disregard for the truth. N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-80 (1964); Town of Massena v. Healthcare Underwriters Mut. Ins. Co., 779 N.E.2d 167, 171 (N.Y. 2002). Such public figures can include limited-purpose public figures who “have thrust themselves into the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved.” Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 345 (1974).  It is not necessary for a plaintiff to be a household name to be a public figure, either; he or she may be a limited-purpose public figure within a certain community for the same public figure standards to apply. Huggins v. Moore, 726 N.E.2d 456, 460 (N.Y. 1999).  It is not even necessary for a public figure to seek the limelight to be held to this standard – it is possible to be a public figure by mere circumstance, rather than concerted effort. See Gertz, 418 U.S. at 345 (“it may be possible for someone to become a public figure through no purposeful action of his own”).

Fluke was testifying before Congress, on National TV, in a debate that she willingly ran toward. She purposely dove into the spotlight, and if the spotlight burned her, that’s her problem — not my beloved Constitution’s problem.

As a public figure, in order to prevail in a defamation case, Fluke must prove the “actual malice” on Limbaugh’s part. While Fluke probably thinks that the statements were “malicious” (and they certainly were), “actual malice” has a precise legal meaning, i.e.; known falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth. See Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964):

[There is] a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks …

The purpose of the First Amendment is to ensure the unfettered exchange of ideas among the American people. See Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 484 (1957). The First Amendment does not demand politeness, fairness, nor that debate should be measured and soft. In fact, the First Amendment provides ample breathing room for political discourse to get nasty, unfair, and brutish. See Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254. Furthermore, the First Amendment does not require that every statement be 100% objectively true, nor does it allow defamation suits to continue just because a statement is false, or implies a nasty falsehood.

Further, there is a reason why public figures need to meet a higher standard than ordinary people. When you jump into a boxing ring, you can’t whine when the other guy punches you in the face. And, when you step onto the gladiatorial sands of public political debate, you’re going to just need to accept that people who disagree with you are going to say nasty things about you. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t go running into the kitchen.

Wah! But Rush Limbaugh called her a “prostitute.”

No. No he didn’t.

Yes, literally, Rush Limbaugh said that Sandra Fluke was a “prostitute.” However, it should not take too high of a degree of sophistication to understand the difference between actually accusing someone of being a harlot of the night, who takes money for sex, and calling someone a prostitute in the exercise of rhetorical hyperbole.

Even his “factually sounding” statements must be taken in context.

“She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

“If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is: We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

Even these are hyperbolic and not “false statements of fact.”

When it comes to defamation, it is not a simple matter of (False Statement) + (Angry Plaintiff) = Defamation. Context is everything. See Greenbelt Coop. Pub. Ass’n. v. Bresler , 398 U.S. 6 (1970) (when it is apparent, in the context of a statement, that its meaning is figurative and hyperbolic, the falsity of the literal meaning does not equal a knowing falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth, thus a public figure can not prove actual malice as a matter of law).

In Dworkin v. L.F.P, Inc., 839 P.2d 903 (Wyo. 1992), Hustler Magazine called Andrea Dworkin inter alia a “shit-squeezing sphincter” and “a cry-baby who can dish out criticism but clearly can’t take it,” Id. at 915.

Under prevailing constitutional First Amendment safeguards, that language cannot, as a matter of law, form the basis for a defamation claim…We agree with that said by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals: “Ludicrous statements are much less insidious and debilitating than falsities that bear the ring of truth. We have little doubt that the outrageous and the outlandish will be recognized for what they are.” Dworkin v. Hustler, 867 F.2d at 1194. Vulgar speech reflects more on the character of the user of such language than on the object of such language. Curtis Publishing Co. v. Birdsong, 360 F.2d 344, 348 (5th Cir. 1966). Id. at 915-916.

The law is clear that defamation law is not there to protect anyone from annoying speech, embarrassing speech, vigorous epithets, or mere vitriolic spewings of a fat pill-addled blowhard bastard.

Posner wrote that rhetorical hyperbole “is a well recognized category of, as it were, privileged defamation.” Dilworth v. Dudley, 75 F.3d 307, 309 (7th Cir. 1996); See also Lifton v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chicago, 416 F.3d 571, 579 (7th Cir. 2005) (Illinois law requires that an allegedly defamatory statement must contain an objectively verifiable factual assertion); Pease v. Int’l Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, et al., 208 Ill.App.3d 863, 153 Ill.Dec. 656, 567 N.E.2d 614, 619 (1991) (“Words that are mere name calling or found to be rhetorical hyperbole or employed only in a loose, figurative sense have been deemed nonactionable.”).

It is implausible for Limbaugh’s statements about Fluke, even if appearing to be factual upon facile review, to be interpreted as actual facts.  When a reader – or in the case, listener – would not interpret a statement as factual, it constitutes rhetorical hyperbole, which is not actionable as defamation.  Letter Carriers v. Austin, 418 U.S. 264, 283 (1974); Greenbelt, 893 U.S. at 14 (characterizing conduct as “blackmail” was, in context, non-actionable rhetorical hyperbole).  “Statements that can be interpreted as nothing more than rhetorical political invective, opinion, or hyperbole are protected speech.” Burns v. Davis, 196 Ariz. 155, 165, 993 P.2d 1119, 1129 (Ariz. App. 1999).  Even where defamation defendants have made statements that could be interpreted as factual – a claim of rape, Gold v. Harrison, 962 P.2d 353 (Haw. 1998), cert denied, 526 U.S. 1018 (1999), or a statement that someone behaved “unethically,” Wait v. Beck’s North America, Inc., 241 F. Supp. 2d 172, 183 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) – courts have protected this expression as non-defamatory.  

The fact that these statements were made by Rush Limbaugh, the man who coined the term “feminazi” and constantly bemoans the mere continued existence of liberal feminists to a conservative, politically aware radio audience, denudes his description of Fluke as a “prostitute” of any capacity for defamation.  No reasonable person would interpret Limbaugh’s statement to be factual, and it fits safely under the umbrella of rhetorical hyperbole.

Ok, Rush called her a “slut” – that’s defamation per se!

Wrong again, Skippy.

For most of our history, stating or implying that a woman was unchaste would give rise to a claim for defamation per se. In fact, in recent history, a number of courts have specifically held that describing a woman as a “slut” is defamatory per se. See, e.g., Bryson v. News Am. Publs., 672 N.E.2d 1207, 1221 (Ill. 1996); Howard v. Town of Jonesville, 935 F.Supp 855, 861 (W. D. La. 1996) (stating that a woman is “sleeping with everyone” at her place of employment and is incapable of performing her job duties “would appear to be defamatory on its face”) (punctuation and footnote omitted); Smith v. Atkins, 622 So.2d 795, 800 (La. Ct. App. 1993) (calling a woman a “slut” is defamatory per se).

However, I believe that this theory is a throwback to the days when women were essentially the sexual property of their controlling male. A daughter who was unchaste became less valuable to her father, and a wife that was unchaste was less valuable to her husband.

The times they are a changin’…

In 2005, an ex-girlfriend of KISS lead singer Gene Simmons sued after VH1 ran a “rockumentary” in which she was portrayed, she claims, as an “unchaste woman.”

The plaintiff, Georgeann Ward, said that a portrayal of her as promiscuous was defamatory. The defendants argued that “changing social mores could affect how certain sexual conduct is viewed by the community, and that what was defamatory at one time may no longer be the case.”

While the New York state court refused the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the judge did suggest that the proper “legal authority or social science data” might convince a court that saying a woman is promiscuous is no longer automatically defamatory. The two sides have since settled, but I believe that this is an accurate portrayal of modern thought. Things might be different in Mississippi or other third world jurisdictions, but a case brought in DC (where I would imagine the claim would be brought) would likely be examined through 20th century, and not antebellum, eyes.

Professor Lisa Pruitt of the University of California at Davis School of Law said that although it might be more difficult for a woman to sue today when she is defamed in a sexual manner, the change in the law is “a net gain for women because it signifies, through law’s expressive function, that women’s most important attribute is no longer their sexual propriety.” (source)

Accordingly, it would be awfully ironic to hear someone supposedly championing women’s rights arguing that defamation law should stop its march forward and that a sexist standard should be applied to her suit.

Absent such a bold maneuver, this element would probably wither under scrutiny as a statement of protected opinion.

What is the standard for someone to accurately and factually be described as a slut? Clerks suggests that if a woman performs oral sex on 37 men, that this might be the line. I really don’t know. I think that most women would say that the line is well below 37. Then again, I wouldn’t really call any woman a slut (unless it was a term of endearment – some women giggle when you call them that). I just don’t make value judgments about someone’s sexuality. If a woman or a man is promiscuous and they are happy, they can be a slut if they want (or not).

In other words, “slut” is properly regarded as little more than a statement of opinion. But see Bryson, 672 N.E.2d at 1221; Howard, 935 F.Supp at 861; Smith, 622 So.2d at 800.

“Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries, but on the competition of other ideas. But there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.” Gertz, 418 U.S. at 339-40. An alleged defamatory statement “must be provable as false before there can be liability under state defamation law.” Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 19 (1990).

The term “slut” has different meanings to different people. C.f. McCabe v. Rattiner, 814 F.2d 839, 842 (1st Cir. 1987) (finding that the term “scam” “means different things to different people . . . and there is not a single usage in common phraseology. While some connotations of the word may encompass criminal behavior, others do not. The lack of precision makes the assertion ‘X is a scam’ incapable of being proven true or false.”); Lauderback v. Am. Broad. Cos., Inc., 741 F.2d 193, 196 (8th Cir. 1984) (insurance agent referred to as a “crook”). “Clearly, if the statement was not capable of being verified as false, there could be no liability for defamation.” Woodward v. Weiss, 932 F. Supp. 723, 726 (D.S.C. 1996). As such, a term with such diffuse and subjective meaning, colored and even defined by the reader’s life experiences, is incapable of precise definition. Like “short,” “ugly” or “fat,” slut is a word that is given its meaning by those who use it – a fact that the participants of SlutWalks around the world in 2011 would be quick to cite. Absent something really bizarre happening in Court, I can’t see a court, in this day and age, allowing a defamation claim based on the term “slut.”

Conclusion

This incident is unfortunate for those on the Left who have, at least since 2000, considered their side of the aisle to be the place where free speech can feel safe and secure. It has exposed the liberal and academic Left to be as hypocritical and as bad as the dirty Right wing when it comes to free speech. Remember when Democratic elected officials condemned Bill Maher for calling Sarah Palin a “cunt?” No, me either) Sandra Fluke’s statements were worthy of some criticism, and I lobbed some of my own. Rush Limbaugh could have done a much better job of criticizing Ms. Fluke. But, the fact is that those on the left, defamation lawyers trolling for clients, and Rush Limbaugh haters alike have set aside their desire to understand or support free expression in a hysterical pile-on of the prick from Palm Beach. They are all wrong. They are not only wrong on the law, but they are also morally wrong because someone, somewhere out there is listening to them — and will believe that when someone gets butthurt, that they are a victim, and that someone has to pay for their thin-skinned indignation in court.

And then we all lose.


Did Rush Limbaugh Defame Sandra Fluke?

March 2, 2012

Update: A more complete analysis is here.

I received an inquiry asking if Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” would be the proper basis for a defamation claim. I do not believe it would be. In order to have a valid defamation claim you must have:

  1. A false statement of fact
  2. About the plaintiff
  3. That harms the plaintiff’s reputation

False Statement of Fact?

For most of our history, stating or implying that a woman was unchaste would give rise to a claim for defamation per se. In fact, in recent history, a number of courts have specifically held that describing a woman as a “slut” is defamatory per se. See, e.g., Bryson v. News Am. Publs., 672 N.E.2d 1207, 1221 (Ill. 1996); Howard v. Town of Jonesville, 935 F.Supp 855, 861 (W. D. La. 1996) (stating that a woman is “sleeping with everyone” at her place of employment and is incapable of performing her job duties “would appear to be defamatory on its face”) (punctuation and footnote omitted); Smith v. Atkins, 622 So.2d 795, 800 (La. Ct. App. 1993) (calling a woman a “slut” is defamatory per se).

However, I believe that this theory is a throwback to the days when women were essentially the sexual property of their controlling male. A daughter who was unchaste became less valuable to her father, and a wife that was unchaste was less valuable to her husband.

Times they are a changing…

In 2005, an ex-girlfriend of KISS lead singer Gene Simmons sued after VH1 ran a “rockumentary” in which she was portrayed, she claims, as an “unchaste woman.”

The plaintiff, Georgeann Ward, said that a portrayal of her as promiscuous was defamatory. The defendants argued that “changing social mores could affect how certain sexual conduct is viewed by the community, and that what was defamatory at one time may no longer be the case.”

While the New York state court refused the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the judge did suggest that the proper “legal authority or social science data” might convince a court that saying a woman is promiscuous is no longer automatically defamatory. The two sides have since settled, but I believe that this is an accurate portrayal of modern thought. Things might be different in Mississippi or other third world jurisdictions, but a case brought in DC (where I would imagine the claim would be brought) would likely be examined through 20th century, and not antebellum, eyes.

Professor Lisa Pruitt of the University of California at Davis School of Law said that although it might be more difficult for a woman to sue today when she is defamed in a sexual manner, the change in the law is “a net gain for women because it signifies, through law’s expressive function, that women’s most important attribute is no longer their sexual propriety.” (source)

Accordingly, it would be awfully ironic to hear someone supposedly championing women’s rights arguing that defamation law should stop its march forward and that a sexist standard should be applied to her suit.

Absent such a bold maneuver, this element would probably wither under scrutiny as a statement of protected opinion.

What is the standard for someone to accurately and factually be described as a slut? Clerks suggests that if a woman performs oral sex on 37 men, that this might be the line. I really don’t know. I think that most women would say that the line is well below 37. Then again, I wouldn’t really call any woman a slut (unless it was a term of endearment – some women giggle when you call them that). I just don’t make value judgments about someone’s sexuality. If a woman or a man is promiscuous and they are happy — they can be a slut if they want, or not.

In other words, “slut” is properly regarded as little more than a statement of opinion. But see Bryson v. News Am. Publs., 672 N.E.2d at 1221; Howard v. Town of Jonesville, 935 F.Supp at 861; Smith v. Atkins, 622 So.2d at 800.

“Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries, but on the competition of other ideas. But there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.” Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 339-40 (1974). An alleged defamatory statement “must be provable as false before there can be liability under state defamation law.” Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 19 (1990).

The term “slut” has different meanings to different people. C.f. McCabe v. Rattiner, 814 F.2d 839, 842 (1st Cir. 1987) (finding that the term “scam” “means different things to different people . . . and there is not a single usage in common phraseology. While some connotations of the word may encompass criminal behavior, others do not. The lack of precision makes the assertion ‘X is a scam’ incapable of being proven true or false.”); Lauderback v. Am. Broad. Cos., Inc., 741 F.2d 193, 196 (8th Cir. 1984) (insurance agent referred to as a “crook”). “Clearly, if the statement was not capable of being verified as false, there could be no liability for defamation.” Woodward v. Weiss, 932 F. Supp. 723, 726 (D.S.C. 1996).

Absent something really bizarre happening in Court, I can’t see a court, in this day and age, allowing a defamation claim based on the term “slut.”


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