MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There’s a new twist in the ongoing saga involving Jesse Ventura’s defamation case.
Major media organizations have appealed the federal ruling. The amicus brief argues awarding the former Minnesota governor damages from the sale of the “American Sniper” book is unprecedented.
Those companies aren’t part of the original lawsuit but have a vested interest in the outcome.
“It’s stunning,” Ventura said. “Why is mainstream media even involved in this case?
Ventura won his defamation lawsuit against the estate of American sniper Chris Kyle, who was killed in 2013. He alleged Kyle made up claims in his book about punching him at a bar.
The jury awarded Ventura nearly $2 million, including $500,000 for defamation and $1.345 million for “unjust enrichment.”
“Thirty-three ajor media conglomerates have signed on to the appeal, and they’ve put a briefing to the court to overturn my decision,” Ventura said. “They want the ability to be able to defame people for money and to where you’re not allowed to collect anything from them when they lie.”
“Media companies file amicus briefs all the time like this,” University of Minnesota Law School professor Dale Carpenter said.
Carpenter said the companies don’t contest Ventura’s defamation award. Instead, they’re arguing the other damages shouldn’t come from the book author’s profits.
“The question is how much should they have to pay, and in American history so far, all they’ve had to pay is the amount that’s necessary to repair the damage to the person’s reputation,” Carpenter said. “That’s $500,000. Not the additional amount.”
He said this case sets a precedent, one that affects everyone’s right to free speech. The award may deter people from defaming others, but it could also have the opposite effect.
“They may feel chilled in their expression because they don’t want to face huge damage awards that they never had to face before, and that impoverishes the public conversation,” Carpenter said.
The Minnesota Newspaper Association is one of the 33 media companies included in the brief. Attorney Mark Anfinson said this is about the ability of American media to challenge, confront and expose powerful people. If the ruling stands, this could have a chilling effect on the ability to do that.
CBS Corporation is not part of the brief.