Thursday, June 7, 2012

UPDATE: SLAPPing a Birther: Judge Tosses Defamation Suit Against Esquire

Esquire (magazine)In a 20-page Memorandum of Decision in Joseph Farah et al. v. Esquire Magazine et al. (Case No. 11-cv-1179), United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Rosemary Collyer this week dismissed a defamation suit brought by a publisher and the author of a book questioning President Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship against Esquire magazine over a satirical post (see "TUOL" post 7/6/11).

Farah, creator of and political science Ph.D. and professed investigative reporter Jerome Corsi, author of Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President, sued Esquire magazine and blog poster Mark Warren for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, interference with business relations and violation of the Lanham Act [15 U.S.C. sec. 1125(a)], seeking $285 million in actual, compensatory and punitive damages over a post in the Politics Blog of that appeared May 18, 2011.

The plaintiffs support the position of  the so-called "Birthers" who believe President Obama does not satisfy the requirement set forth in Article II, Sec. 1 of the U.S. Constitution that a president be a Natural born citizen or U.S. citizen. Soon after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate from Hawaii, Warren wrote a post headlined: BREAKING: Jerome Corsi's Birther Book Pulled from Shelves!. Two hours after his intial post, Esquire published another item noting that Warren's piece was intended as satire.

In her decision, Judge Collyer said the Lanham Act count was inapplicable because it covers only commercial speech, not non-commercial satirical content such as the Warren post. She granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the suit under Washington, D.C.'s anti-SLAPP ("Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation") statute enacted in 2010 [D.C. Code sec. 16-5501], which enables a party to fend off lawsuits filed by one side of a political or public policy debate in an attempt to stifle speech presenting an opposing view.

The judge noted that satire is protected First Amendment speech and that the blog post at issue was clearly satire because it was denoted as humor, contained an exaggerated, decidedly un-newslike headline sporting an exclamation point, and used the same siren logo employed by conservative blogger Matt Drudge. Judge Collyer also pointed out that Dr. Corsi himself had originally dismissed Warren's post as a poor attempt at satire.

The plaintiffs' attorney reportedly plans to appeal the dismissal.

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