Public No More: The Jesse Ventura Defamation Case
The United States libel and defamation laws can be traced in our history to the era prior to the American Revolution.
Technologies have changed our communication habits which has opened a 24/7 platform, allowing everyone and anyone with broader capabilities to express themselves, their ideas and their stories.
Chris Kyle is one of those people who, like many others in our digital era, wrote a memoir about his life. He was a highly decorated Navy SEAL that completed four tours in Iraq between the years of 1999-2009. The former Navy SEAL has been regarded as the deadliest sniper U.S. military history.
In his book “American Sniper,” he wrote a sub-chapter called “Punching Out Scruff Face” in which he describes punching Jesse Ventura at a California bar in 2006 (Davey, 2014).
The incident was said to have happened after Ventura allegedly made offensive comments about the Navy SEAL’s. Kyle (2006) quoted Venture allegedly saying- “the SEAL’s deserve to lose a few in Iraq.”
Jesse Ventura a Navy SEAL himself, serving in the 1970’s claims he would never speak of the Military in that way and that he never had an altercation with Kyle at the bar.
The 1964 case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, has been a critical ruling, setting an important precedent for libel cases involving public figures.
In the landmark case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan “proof of actual malice” is required for an award of damages in an action for libel involving public figures or matters of public concern.
After publication of Chris Kyle’s book, Venture filed suit claiming Kyle had defamed him in the sub-chapter, even though Kyle did not specifically name Ventura in his book.
Libel law probably goes furthest in protecting people in their business and occupations. Today, libel law and laws protecting people against defamation have become complex and often considers and applies the protections within the First Amendment for cases dealing with defamation or libel.
Identification is very important in a defamation case and Pember and Calvert (2013) explain, the injured party must show the court that the alleged defamatory statement is… “of and concerning him, her, or it.”
Kyle’s remarks were found to be libelous and Ventura was awarded 1.8 million dollars for -unjust enrichment.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled in 1980 that an identification might be established if…
“a reasonable reader rationally suspects that the protagonist is in fact the plaintiff, notwithstanding the author’s and publisher’s assurances that the work is fiction” (Pember &Calvert, 2013)
With each evolving century the American judiciary system has reinterpreted defamation and libel laws, ensuring constitutional rights are still protected. Our new and modern digitized world will continue to shift, changing the societal norms and bringing into question new issues regarding defamation and libel laws.