Sue The SOB’s

I’ve spent a lot of time–and pixels–on what sometimes seems like an insurmountable problem: how do we stop media outlets from blatant political  lying– out-and-out propaganda– without doing irreparable harm to the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment?

The problem is everywhere.

One recent example: a site called Big League Politics reported that Nancy Pelosi purchased a $25 million-dollar oceanfront mansion on Jupiter Island “an elite community with the distinction of its residents possessing the highest per capita income of any municipality in the United States.” Rightwing sites eagerly circulated the report, which actual reporters found to be demonstrably, patently false.

What to do? I’m beginning to think the answer is “sue their socks off!”

According to last Thursday’s New York Times,

Two Georgia election workers who were the targets of a right-wing campaign that falsely claimed they manipulated ballots filed a defamation lawsuit on Thursday against one of the nation’s leading sources of pro-Trump misinformation.

The suit against the right-wing conspiratorial website The Gateway Pundit was filed by Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, both of whom processed ballots in Atlanta during the 2020 election for the Fulton County elections board. It follows a series of defamation claims filed by elections equipment operators against conservative television operators such as Fox News, Newsmax and One America News.

The allegations had been thoroughly investigated and found to be false, but that didn’t stop the pro-Trump disinformation campaign.The women received death threats and unending harassment from phone calls and text messages. Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, both of whom are Black, were also subjected to racial slurs.

A far more high-profile series of lawsuits has been filed by manufacturers of election technology.  Dominion Voting Systems has filed defamation lawsuits against Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani and against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. A federal judge recently ruled that those lawsuits can proceed. The court gave short shrift to claims that the defendants didn’t defame Dominion with their discredited allegations that the company was involved in election fraud that delivered the presidential election to Joe Biden.

Powell and Lindell claimed during a June hearing they could not be sued for defamation because they stood by their fraud claims and Dominion could not prove they made the allegations with “actual malice” knowing that they were false.

The judge noted that the claims were sufficiently fanciful that they demonstrated either knowing falsity or “reckless disregard for the truth”and said “a reasonable juror could conclude” Lindell’s claims of a “vast international conspiracy that is ignored by the government but proven by a spreadsheet on an internet blog is so inherently improbable that only a reckless man would believe it.”

The complaint filed by the two women suing The Gateway Pundit and other right-wing outlets did not specify a dollar amount that would compensate them, but Dominion is asking for billions of dollars in damages. In addition to the defendants listed above, it has also sued Fox News, Newsmax, One America News and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne.

Smartmatic, another election machine provider, has filed several suits as well.

The First Amendment protects citizens against government censorship. It does not protect purveyors of out-and-out lies from lawsuits charging libel or slander. And those lawsuits can be effective, as the New York Times reported in February.

In just a few weeks, lawsuits and legal threats from a pair of obscure election technology companies have achieved what years of advertising boycotts, public pressure campaigns and liberal outrage could not: curbing the flow of misinformation in right-wing media.

Fox Business canceled its highest rated show, “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” on Friday after its host was sued as part of a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit. On Tuesday, the pro-Trump cable channel Newsmax cut off a guest’s rant about rigged voting machines. Fox News, which seldom bows to critics, has run fact-checking segments to debunk its own anchors’ false claims about electoral fraud.

These lawsuits hit propagandists where it counts–in their pocketbooks. Fox News had to pay millions last year to the family of a murdered Democratic National Committee staff member that Fox hosts had falsely accused of leaking emails to WikiLeaks.

Can the tactic be abused? Absolutely–just look at Donald Trump, who  routinely sued anyone who reported on him negatively. Defending against even spurious claims can be expensive; I don’t want to minimize the downside.

That said, I agree with Roberta Kaplan.

This shouldn’t be the way to govern speech in our country,” Ms. Kaplan said. “It’s not an efficient or productive way to promote truth-telling or quality journalistic standards through litigating in court. But I think it’s gotten to the point where the problem is so bad right now there’s virtually no other way to do it.”

Sue the liars.


  1. I agree, but understanding the problem, where does it stop?

    Intent? Willful knowing?

    Here is why I ask, the “purveyors of propaganda” have been willfully lying to us since the 50s with the advent of propaganda by Edward Bernays. His first significant trick with Big Tobacco was to convince millions of women that smoking death sticks were cool since that day; cancer has been the leading cause of death and makes the “health industry” billions of dollars.

    What about politicians?

    Hell, the judges have made it legal for them to lie. And our corporate media prints it verbatim without a sticker or digital pulse on the screen saying that politicians can lie, so kindly disregard what she says.

    It’s simple logic that if the politicians are lying, all media repeats what they say.

    As with all matters in this upside-down world, you must dig down to the causes and conditions. Then, make the truth matter once again.

    This is the problem when the answer to everything is lowering the bar. So what happens is the bar gets lowered and lowered…ad infinitum.

  2. If you’re going to make claims you have to play devils advocate and investigate your own investigations. The problem is that indicators from past elections in fair weather counties all pointed toward Trump winning.
    The real problem is fraud before the ballots get sent to the machines. Is there tampering there. Are the recent allegations in Racine County Wisconsin widespread? Peolple who had voted for ten years suddenly votes without vote administrators. Meadows came out with a book about all the things Trump did correctly. Did he? Commentators stated how difficult it was to work with Trump. He was an easy target in the news media. CNN reported a rate of 95% against Trump. Did there need to be any tampering to oust him? The facts in yhe laptop from hell were covered up byvthe news media. reportedly this week corredpondsnts are colluding with ghe current WH to give a narrative on the sad economy.
    Disinformation is on all sides. Can we just pick out thise who really want something and have a belief they are right and sue them over it?
    The polarization in this nation is seen to clearly. Look at CNNs ratings .
    Yes, find those who make racial skurs and go after them at all cost.

  3. Of course. Lawyers aren’t rich enough. Let THEM buy the Jupiter, FL properties. Pay THEM to out the utter corruption and power-mad, amoral, greedy and anti-American Republicans every day in court. Let the media cover THOSE events. These things would not only boost the economy by having the newly wealthy lawyers spend their new-found riches, but will provide new employment for many more journalists actually trying to report the facts and events that matter.

    Be still my beating heart.

  4. Rush Limbaugh had the slickest of all ways to broadcast a lie. “No, really. Joe Blow is a crook. I read it in the…. in the… I’ll find it in a minute. It’s in this pile here. I’m not saying this.
    They published it last week. I’ll find it in a minute. First, these dedicated American sponsors.”
    Then he never came back to naming the source. Too busy spreading more b.s.
    I always believed that E.I.B. stood for “Excrement In Broadcasting”.

  5. The death of truth and the numbers of those who believe the lies is tragic and terrifying for the for the future of democracy and our beloved country. Our children and young people deserve a better safer future. Power to President Biden and all who are working steadfastly for the greater good.

  6. The right wing conspirators are counting on the “reasonable man” defense to get them out of the soup they made. The big problem I have with that is that we know their targeted audience is NOT the “reasonable man,” but rather their pitchfork wielding magats.

  7. While sitting in a graduate class I noticed a fellow-student searching the index of our textbook for the term “S-O-B” after the professor had used it in his lecture.
    She approached me during the smoke-break (common back then) to ask, “What is this SOB?” I told her. She was quick to respond. “You Americans, I can’t figure you out. In Spanish, (her native language) if we want to cuss someone out, we don’t abbreviate. You Americans, you abbreviate everything. Why do you abbreviate everything?”

  8. Nancy may not be moving to FL but she will be moving out of a certain house/chamber position in about a year. Start ordering the ice cream

  9. We now have one public service political party and one high-profit political business. Like most businesses now, the latter depends on advertising, and advertising never involves the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Everything is burnished to a high sheen and baits customers into consumption. The GOP is absolutely no exception but their product is raw power to impose what’s best for the party on everyone else in the country.

  10. The truth is much simpler than a lie. You have to work to remember a lie, but not the truth. And usually one lie leads to another and than another to maintain a cover up of the truth. The former president was skilled at remembering his lies.

    I wish everyone followed the Buddhist principle of “Right Speech”. But, of course, that sort of speech is boring and does not create an exciting fantasy like conspiracy theories do. Conspiracies are probably addictive because they stimulate the release of dopamine and adrenalin with their fear mongering. Just like substance use disorders they create a lot of collateral damage i.e. death threats against those following the law.

    What comes out of someone’s mouth reveals that person’s character. It reveals whether or not that person values civility, respect, and the truth. That is what’s wonderful about free speech. It reveals a person’s character.

    And yes, suing for defamation of character seems now to be the only way to counter people spreading misinformation and lies.

  11. Robin is on the mark – as usual. What comes out of one’s mouth in a courtroom is not the only measure of character, or truth. There are also bodily composure and other observable criteria and demeanor of the witness to be considered by the triers of fact in evaluating his/her testimony. Some of such demeanor is managed, of course, as in the case of Rittenhouse’s crying jags on the stand which, interestingly, were not accompanied by any observable tears, and which may have influenced the triers of fact to conclude that he didn’t do what he plainly did.

    Republicans these days have found an accomplice to their open prevarication, i.e., the media, members of which are more interested in Nielsens than the dull “reporting” afforded by those in the Congress who are more involved in actual governing than headline hunting. We daily read of the machinations of Boeberts and Margies but little of the Durbins who are toiling away in the dungeon of governing.

    What to do? What we’re doing, and more relentlessly. Tell the truth. Govern fairly and honestly. Vote. Defend our democracy with ever more vigor. An onlooker would never guess it from the accounts of media and the fruitcake fringe, but we are still in the majority, so let’s act like it.

  12. There is another big problem with this strategy, beyond the problems of cost and potential abuse that professor K. points out. It, along with the whole system of the rule of law, depends on having non-partisan judges, juries, prosecutors, and other officials who will enforce the law equally on all comers, regardless of political favor.

    This is particularly a problem since The Former Guy was essentially given carte blanche by a friendly Senate majority to fill vast numbers of federal judgeships, including a third of the Supreme Court, with partisan apparatchiks. This of course includes a great many judgeships that the same Senate, as we know, had deliberately blockaded the previous elected president from filling, because partisanship.

    As we’ve seen in recent court cases, a partisan judge (Kyle Rittenhouse case) or partisan jurors who refuse to convict “one of their own” in defiance of evidence, or a prosecutor who refuses to bring charges against popular or influential figures, can effectively hamstring the rule of law against anyone they favor, while selectively using the same law they refuse to enforce against “their side” as a club to beat down the “other side”.

    When the law cannot or does not function, those who act outside the law win.

  13. Civil defamation lawsuits may be helpful in curtailing media misinformation, but it’s a drop in the bucket in terms of curing the problem. Many of these lies won’t provide a cause of action. And we want to be careful of SLAPP lawsuits in which big companies use the legal process to crush people’s free speech rights.

    One of the first thing cults do is to cut off the flow of outside information to its people. The cult leader wants to isolate his followers and inundate them with propaganda. The way you deprogram a member of a cult is to get them away from the cult, to outside sources of information.

    What do you do though when you have people who are deliberately cutting themselves off from outside information and will only consume propaganda that is filled with lies? I don’t have the answer, but one of the things that I believe we do need to regulate are these social media algorithms that result in being spoon fed more and more radical disinformation. But even that suggestion is a drop in the bucket.

  14. Felix, Please get back to me when Democrats start appointing non-partisan, non-ideological judges to the federal judiciary. What Republicans do in filling federal judicial slots is no different than what Democrats do when they get a chance. This is one situation in which both sides are equally guilty.

  15. Paul, admittedly Dems pick more liberal judges, but they are generally rated as well qualified by the ABA. Many of those appointed by the last administration, not only were not “well qualified,” they were rated unqualified. An example would be the judge who ordered the current administration to return to the stay in Mexico policy.

  16. I”ve long wondered why New York hasn’t investigated Donald’s relationship with his contractors. He said himself (unfortunately not under oath) that anyone who pays a contractor the original amount in the contract is a fool. If he really practicedd this, if he signed contracts with no intent to pay the contracted amount, then he is guilty of contract fraud. If they can’t find any significant number of contractors, who he hasn’t sued, then they should throw him in jail for massive contract fraud. Hell, the contractors should get together and sue him for contract fraud.

  17. Financial punishment, as in a suit, seems to be the only thing that can be effective. The right wing propaganda machine knows exactly what it is
    trying to accomplish, with its malice aforethought!

  18. Paul, please get back to me when the Republican Supreme Court holds confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

  19. Theresa – Rush was one step away from Joe McCarthy’s blank piece of paper with the names of all of those Communists in the State Department – I think Rep. Spartz inherited it.
    I think McCarthy stole it from Dr. Who. The Doctor called it “Psychic Paper”.

    Robyn – It actually is very easy to lie — if you aren’t bothered by consistency.
    Right Speech is great, but I am not certain if certain people are able to go without lying and being nasty.

  20. Cannot understand the policy of packing the Supreme Court .They should not be placed because of their political ideology.They. Should have only one ideology ! The pursuit of Justice ! Otherwise their position in your democracy so called is just another sham and scam!

  21. Ack… just for clarification after the fact, my previous comment was meant to refer to the Senate, not the Supreme Court, holding confirmation hearings. A dumb typo.

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