The Temperature at Which BS Burns

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When Army vet Sgt. Peter Damon announced he was suing Michael Moore for $85 million for using his image in Fahrenheit 9/11, I dug around and noticed Damon's complaint had some gaping holes. The main problem was that Damon claimed appearing in Fahrenheit 9/11 had made him look critical of the war and President Bush, and that had defamed his character and made him a propagandist for the enemy. If that was the kind of impression that Damon didn't want to give, it didn't explain why he'd appeared with Sen. Ted Kennedy at an anti-war speech.

I called Damon's lawyer last week to ask if his client had actually appeared at the Kennedy speech; he said he didn't know. But Newsweek's Jeannette Walls put in another call, and (perhaps because hearing "Newsweek" on your phone line is scarier than hearing "Reason") the lawyer flipped.

When called for comment, Damon's lawyer, Dennis Lynch, said, "If you claim that [Damon] attended an anti-war speech, that would be inaccurate." Lynch requested a video of the event; when offered an email transcript instead, the lawyer accused The Scoop of being "unprofessional" and "biased" before hanging up. He hung up on or declined to accept subsequent calls for clarification.

Walls has another piece of evidence against Damon's suit. When he appeared in an anti-Moore documentary (one of two), he didn't seem nearly as bothered about F9/11. "That's the reason we go off to fight," Damon said, "to defend his right to make a movie."

The point here isn't to defend Moore or pile on Damon. But it's good to remain skeptical of flashy, expensive lawsuits announced against celebrities with a cable TV media blitz.

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  1. How did this guy arrive at the supposition that he had suffered $85 million worth of damages from Mikey Moore? This whole thing stinks like Moore set it up himself.

  2. Why not give Ted Kennedy’s office a try an ask them how the wounded Damon was chosen? On the one hand, it could have been Kennedy’s people calling up Walter Reed and asking if they had any of Ted’s constituents there at the time (Damon was living in Reed housing in the DC area at the time in the DC area, according to several news reports). On the other hand, maybe Damon was chosen due to some sympathies with the Senator’s position.

    As for his comments in the anti-Moore movie (was it 41.11C, Farenhype or one of the other more general anti-Moore ones?) what’s the timeline on the making of that with the release of 9/11F and Damon seeing the movie? If the filming of the anti-Moore film followed his viewing of 9/11F, and his comments were used unedited, it would strengthen the use of that argument.

  3. Don,

    $85 million roughly mirrors the comestic take from the movie, I think the figure was arrived at rather post-hoc.

  4. domestic. domestic take.

  5. Chewy – Actually, it made close to $120 million domestically and around $100 million at the foreign box office. It’s not clear where the $85 million figure comes from.

  6. Thanks Dave, I stand corrected. I had heard a $87 mil figure somewhere recently and thought the figure may have been pulled from that.

  7. My guess is:

    He figured out that a wounded vet’s just supposed to sit there and wave the red white n’ blue the rest of his life, or he won’t get free beer down the VFW lodge no more.

    He played against type; he’s disrupted his friends’ and neigbors’ narrative of what a wounded vet is supposed to do, be, and say. And he couldn’t handle the alienation.

    So he filed this lawsuit in a vain attempt to weave himself back into the social fabric of his world.

  8. iw,

    He didn’t actually make any anti-war statements. In the NBC interview that Moore draws from, he discusses the pain he’s in and how the pain would be worse without the newer pain meds he’s on. Moore snipped the bits he liked and presented them immediately after Rep. Jim McDermott makes some comments about BushCo leaving vets behind.

    What David is suggesting here is not that he made previous anti-war statements, just that he flanked Kennedy during a speech Ted gave that was quite critical of the president and later deemed anti-war by the republicans. That was two years ago, and now the lawsuit. He’s been unable to get astraight answer as to Damon’s role/selection/position on the appearance from Damon’s lawyer.

  9. The point here isn’t to defend Moore or pile on Damon. But it’s good to remain skeptical of flashy, expensive lawsuits announced against celebrities with a cable TV media blitz.

    Why isn’t the point to defend Moore or pile on Damon? Some guy is party to a frivolous lawsuit intended to silence a journalist and just because the journalist is an overweight American social-democrat it’s okay in 2006-model libertarianism? Cripes, I know I’ve rolled my eyes at the glibness of the “Free Markets and Free Minds” tag line, but can’t you folks at least live up to that sound-bite-level standard? Isn’t the use of legal systems to harrass and intimidate critics the sort of thing H+R is always coming out decisively against when it happens in Russia, Venezuela and Turkey? Or is it only bad when the journalist or writer being harrassed is a Thatcherite?

  10. What David is suggesting here is not that he made previous anti-war statements,

    Yes, I know. He’s atoning for having appeared at the lefty thinktank Center for American Progress (or whatever its called) anti-war speech.

    That event somehow dovetailed with his inclusion in F911, however unintended his remark may have been to Moore’s purpose.

    Nevertheless, he’s willingly appeared at one anti war event, and may or may not have willingly appeared in F911. To most war-whoopers, that makes him a traitor, until he saves face/proves his mettle by attacking the Left in some big, public way. Hence, the big, flashy, public lawsuit.

  11. My guess is that Damon was chosen because he, like Kennedy, is from MA.

    koppelman’s right: why aren’t the reason apparatchiks slamming this guy? $85 million bucks because Moore gets in the way of his rep?? Believe me, in Middleboro MA, if you’re a disabled amputee vet, you can hold any position you want and nobody’s going to turn you away from the VFW hall. Sounds like his lawyer thinks he’s found the Golden Ticket.

    And speaking of scumbag attorneys: it’s a very poor attorney who launches a lawsuit without making sure his client did nothing to undermine it. It sounds as if Lynch was unaware of the Kennedy speech, which will help cream his case.

  12. iw,

    “…may or may not have willingly appeared in F911”

    There’s no indication he had any willingness or say in the matter. He had been interviewed by NBC. This interview, owned by NBC, was then liscensed for use by Moore.

    “he’s willingly appeared at one anti war event”

    It is unclear what he knowledge, role and expectations were for this event. That’s what David is trying to get to the root of. As for it being an “anti-war” event, that was the characterization of some republican pols, not the claim of the event itself.

    “To most war-whoopers, that makes him a traitor, until he saves face/proves his mettle by attacking the Left in some big, public way.”

    His reception and praise by the “war-whoopers” last year when he threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game gave no indication that their feelings about him match your assessment. Are you drawing it from any actual remarks about him or merely supposing how you’d expect them to act?

  13. why aren’t the reason apparatchiks slamming this guy?

    So Reason is the first publication to raise doubts about the sincerity of an American who lost both hands serving his country, and the problem is that we’re not slamming him hard enough? Jesus, move to fucking Cuba already.

  14. sm,

    They’re certainly slamming his lawsuit.

    Why aren’t they slamming him personally? Maybe because decent human beings don’t launch personal attacks on the honor of veterans who’ve spilled their blood on foreign battlefields, regardless of their political activity.

    Ahem. Ahem.

  15. IIRC, it was very obvious when watching F911 that the scene Damon was in was someone else’s footage, edited in out of context. It was not a case of Damon being showm making Moore’s point, but of Damon being shown making his own point (that being maimed in combat is painful).

    It’s as if someone made a documentary about fuel costs, quoted a politician saying that the government isn’t doing enough to help drivers, then showing one of those local news clips where a guy at a gas station says he doesn’t know how he’s going to keep his car filled up with gas prices this high.

  16. Well, gee, Tim, I guess from your response somebody ran out of Midol today. And wit.

    Part of my job is working with people from all walks of life, and recently I worked with a guy who survived a suicide bomber in his barracks in Iraq. He had been on TV news. He spent a year getting right in his head but he’s moving on. Does he, and Damon, deserve more from our government? Hell yeah. But getting his rightful compensation by a frivolous lawsuit, and no doubt playing on the public sympathies of a jury to do it, is hardly a standup act.

    It sets a lousy precedent in the way of free speech laws, and I thought that as a Libertarian you folks would take a stronger stance on it.

  17. This interview, owned by NBC, was then liscensed for use by Moore.

    End of lawsuit.

  18. It was not a case of Damon being showm making Moore’s point, but of Damon being shown making his own point (that being maimed in combat is painful).

    Exactly. Which is the legal point here: Damon’s lawyer claims that his client looks guilty of being a peacenik by association. So now we can sue for defamation by proxy? I don’t think so, especially when the instrument being used is an obvious object of public pity. Otherwise, the filmmakers of a movie clip used in an episode of, say, The Sopranos could sue for defamation, claiming David Chase implied Steven Spielberg endorses La Casa Nostra.

    I have all the sympathy in the world for Damon, and he deserves a lot of money for his disability. Just not from a filmmaker.

  19. Tim,

    You are quite possibly right on that. I think the weakest part of Damon’s case is that he signed away his rights to NBC. That said, I haven’t seen the contracts, so don’t know if there were clauses defining appropriate use, editting, etc.

    That said, I’m less sure about David’s point about his presence beside Kennedy at the speech in question undermining his case. He may have been selected because he was wounded, close by and a constituent. I don’t know what his mindset was going in, while there or after. Some coverage or comment by him, besides his mere presence would be helpful.

  20. If Moore had to pay every person in footage he edited out of context, he’d have declared bankruptcy a few times by now.

  21. I’m not sure that the having the rights to the footage gives you the right to sue the footage in ways that are false or malicious. So I’m not sure we can write this guy’s lawsuit off so quickly.

    I mean, we all know that with a little Dowdification you can make anyone’s statements mean the opposite of what was intended or actually said without editing.

    If I owned footage of someone saying “I am not a crook” and edited to say “I am . . . a crook”, I think I would (and should) be liable for slander.

  22. Maybe because decent human beings don’t launch personal attacks on the honor of veterans who’ve spilled their blood on foreign battlefields, regardless of their political activity.

    Are you saying that wounded veterans have absolute moral authority, joe?

    What if veterans disagree? How do we know which one to believe?

  23. RC, “Are you saying that wounded veterans have absolute moral authority, joe?”

    No, I’m saying that “decent human beings don’t launch personal attacks on the honor of veterans who’ve spilled their blood on foreign battlefields, regardless of their political activity.”

    You want to disagree with a certain veteran, go ahead. Just show a little respect, don’t go out of your way to be malicious, don’t use your philosophical differences as an excuse to drag them through the mud. I realize the distinction is a tough one for your kind to make, what with your complete lack of shame and inability to tolerate dissent.

    Oh, and watch the movie before you mouth off about the way Damon’s statement was edited to change its meaning. It wasn’t, regardless of what you’ve decided you “just know.”

  24. Point: joe.

    I mean, we all know that with a little Dowdification you can make anyone’s statements mean the opposite of what was intended or actually said without editing.

    The history of successful libel suits based on a journalist’s having taken a statement out of context is truly magnificent in its non-voluminousness.

  25. decent human beings don’t launch personal attacks on the honor of veterans who’ve spilled their blood on foreign battlefields, regardless of their political activity

    So are you saying if William Calley had had a Purple Heart, he should have walked? Because no decent human being would have launched an attack on his honor? If not, then I guess it is possible for a decent human being to attack the honor of a veteran, and we can do away with this faux reverence for veterans that you display so conveniently.

    And seriously, joe, when we have veterans disagreeing about what happened in the field, how are we to know which one to believe and which one’s honor has been impugned?

    Just show a little respect, don’t go out of your way to be malicious, don’t use your philosophical differences as an excuse to drag them through the mud. I realize the distinction is a tough one for your kind to make, what with your complete lack of shame and inability to tolerate dissent.

    We all know joe is still steaming over Kerry and the Swifties, but geez, joe, when did I drag Kerry through the mud? Where was I malicious, or otherwise show a lack of shame and inability to tolerate dissent?

    You’re the one trying to shut down the conversation on Kerry by invoking his sanctified status as a Wounded Vet. I have to say the kind of namecalling you are indulging in here smacks more of projection than description, though.

    Oh, and watch the movie before you mouth off about the way Damon’s statement was edited to change its meaning.

    Well, joe, since you seem to have misunderstood my point (again), it wasn’t related to what kind of hack job Moore did to the footage he licensed from NBC. Rather, I was pointing out that Cavanaugh’s peremptory dismissal of the claim on the basis that Moore had contracted to use the footage was not necessarily well thought out.

    The history of successful libel suits based on a journalist’s having taken a statement out of context is truly magnificent in its non-voluminousness.

    Matched only by the non-voluminousness of libel suits dismissed because the defendant had a license to use footage included in the ‘publication’ at issue.

    A successful libel suit by a public person must show malice or recklessness. Misquoting someone can be evidence of malice or recklessness. So its not nearly as farfetched as Cavanaugh would like to have you believe.

    While I don’t think Damon should recover from Moore, I’m not particularly impressed by either joe’s defense of him or Cavanaugh’s defense of Moore.

    That is all.

  26. More succinctly, Tim:

    Whether Moore had the right to use the footage is completely irrelevant to the issue of whether his use of it was libelous.

    Contrary legal citations are invited, but not expected.

  27. “So are you saying if William Calley had had a Purple Heart, he should have walked?”

    RC, you should feel free to insult convicted criminals all you want. Funny thing with me, I think that committing crimes and victimizing people changes the appropriate treatment of someone. Oh, hold on, so does every society and every sane person on the planet.

    “And seriously, joe, when we have veterans disagreeing about what happened in the field, how are we to know which one to believe and which one’s honor has been impugned?” What a shame you can’t tell the difference between disputing facts and personal attacks. Work on that.

    “Where was I malicious, or otherwise show a lack of shame and inability to tolerate dissent?” LOL. Um, every single day, on these comment threads, as any regular will confirm.

    “You’re the one trying to shut down the conversation on Kerry by invoking his sanctified status as a Wounded Vet.” No, I love the conversation about Kerry. It’s going to be a useful tool for smacking you people down for years to come.

  28. “A successful libel suit by a public person must show malice or recklessness. Misquoting someone can be evidence of malice or recklessness.”

    Let’s walk through this. A young man, let’s call him Jerry Kohn, joins the Air Force and goes to war. He flies dangerous missions, including one on the morning of Easter Sunday. That night, he writes in his diary about how strange it was to go on a mission on Easter Sunday, then to east Easter dinner and think about Easter back home.

    He gets back, and become Governor of Michigan. He gives a speech in which he mentions going on a mission on Easter Sunday.

    Years later, A-10 Pilots for Accuracy quotes the speech, then quotes the second half of the diary entry, making it appear that he spend the Easter sitting on the base thinking about Easter back home. This use this alleged inconsistency to accuse Governor Kohn of being a liar and a coward.

    Whaddy think, does the way they mutilated his words to change their meaning and make him look bad amount to a libel case?

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