I can tell you with certainty that right now attorneys for newly acquitted defendant Kyle Rittenhouse are working overtime. They are combing through every slanderous statement made about this young man. Every defamatory comment offered up before any facts were presented in a court of law is now under the microscope for possible litigation.
Who is at risk of being sued? Politicians, including President Joe Biden, then a candidate without presidential immunity, was the first high-profile person to declare that young Kyle was a member of an Illinois militia. He ran a campaign ad condemning “white supremacists” featuring a photo of the then 17-year-old. Several members of Congress, like Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., took up the anti-Rittenhouse “white supremacy” chant, and even after the acquittal Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., called Rittenhouse a “murderer who is once again walking free.”
Yes, politicians can be sued for slander for public statements made “outside their seat,” and it will be interesting to see if Rittenhouse’s team goes that route.
But it is media organizations that are the obvious prime targets for lawsuits. Many reporters and TV pundits pronounced Rittenhouse guilty from the get-go. This despite readily available video showing the young man being chased, knocked down and violently attacked that fateful night. The camera also followed Rittenhouse after the shooting as he immediately tried to surrender to police.
Long before the trial facts emerged, MSNBC and CNN frequently repeated the theory that Rittenhouse acted as an “armed vigilante,” a “domestic terrorist” and “a racist.” Even after the verdict, one MSNBC host called Rittenhouse “this little murderous white supremacist.” Sounds like slander to me.
Despite media reports from CBS and others, Rittenhouse did not cross state lines “armed for battle.” (CBS, likely sensing legal liability, has now issued a correction.) Rittenhouse lived with his mother in nearby Antioch, Ill., but had a job, his father and many relatives living in Kenosha. The law said he was legally allowed to carry the rifle he had that night.
Facts matter. The three older men, each with a violent criminal history, who attacked Rittenhouse that night were white, not Black. And as open-minded people learned during the trial, Kyle was none of the derogatory things the media claimed. He worked as a lifeguard and was a dedicated police cadet studying to be an EMT and a nurse. Before the fatal shooting he had gone out to erase lewd graffiti spray-painted on a public building. Does that sound like a terrorist to you?
Too many newspapers to mention in this limited space followed this erroneous storyline about Rittenhouse. And the false descriptions took on a tsunami quality on social media and in the public consciousness. Facebook, that so-called beacon of free speech, blocked any posts sympathetic to Rittenhouse.
“We’ve designated the shooting in Kenosha a mass murder and are removing posts in support of the shooter,” Facebook said at the time. Any post with the words “Free Kyle” was blocked. Remember this when you hear Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg claim his platform doesn’t censor content.
This kid never had a chance in the tainted court of public opinion. It’s a wonder Kenosha was able to seat an impartial jury.
Defenders of the guilty media will likely mention free speech as part of their defense. Funny how some can so firmly embrace one constitutionally protected right – freedom of speech – and forget about another, namely, the right to self-defense.
In 2019, Nick Sandmann, a high school kid from Kentucky, was accused by several major news outlets of aggressively confronting a Native American man during demonstrations in Washington, D.C.. Their videotaped face-off was described by CNN, ABC, CBS, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others as a confrontation instigated by an obviously racist teen wearing a Make America Great Again Hat. The full video revealed Sandmann had done no such thing.
Sandmann eventually sued seven media outlets for more than $800 million. After out-of-court settlements he is now presumed to be a multimillionaire. Sandmann recently wrote an op-ed saying, “The corrupt liberal media came for me, just like they came for Kyle Rittenhouse, and if he decides to sue I say go for it and hold the media accountable.”
That appears to be the best way to keep the political/media lynch mob in check.
Diane Dimond is a nationally syndicated columnist.