Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Defamation Lawsuits Are The New Black

Jose Canseco, on what he feels to be the White Sox' knowledge of his steroid use:

"Of course, they knew . . . Everybody in Major League Baseball knew. They didn't care. They all knew—absolutely."
Sox GM Ken Williams responds by cracking his knuckles and calling his lawyer:

"I don't take too kindly to being called a liar . . . I'm pretty consistent in how I answer questions and do business. So I need to take a look and see from a legal perspective if I want to see how damaging those comments were. I'm not the guy you want to go down that road with because I'm more likely to come out swinging. I'll swing a lot harder than any punch you'll throw at me . . . Well, it is what it is, and anything I do from this point on will be done very quietly behind the scenes.
Everybody altogether now:

(1) Defamation suits are hard. The standard is so high that public figures rarely prevail;

(2) Even when the statements made by the defamer really are false, the plaintiff may whiff on one of the other essential elements of the suit (e.g. actual malice; damages; a showing of a privileged utterance by the defendant), and even if the plaintiff loses a defamation lawsuit on these grounds (i.e. the statement is proved to be false), the public will still conclude that the defendant was telling the truth even if he wasn't;

(3) Finally, no matter the outcome, defamation lawsuits create a bigger audience for the false statement than the false statement enjoyed in the first place, rendering it a self-defeating move by the allegedly-wronged plaintiff.

So basically you don't sue for defamation if you're a public figure unless the utterance is so damn incendiary that it shocks the conscience. You let it die. Well, you do unless you're a deluded, narcissistic, lunatic anyway.

Does Kenny Williams have a legit cause of action against Jose Canseco? Eh. If Canseco is lying when he says that Williams knew he was on steroids, it's possible that Williams could prove the actual malice requirement needed to make a defamation case against him. Canseco is trying to sell books and keep himself out of bankruptcy here. He's made outrageous claims in the past. In short: Canseco has a pretty big incentive to say knowingly outlandish things, and I can feature a jury hammering him under the right circumstances, even if I don't think it's all that likely.

But that's not going to happen. Williams is no dummy. He sees what has happened to Roger Clemens and he doesn't want any part of that. And even if he does, do you think Bud Selig wants one of his executives questioned under oath about what he knew about steroids and when he knew it? That's a big no, and if Kenny so much as thinks of filing a lawsuit, Selig's security apparatus will turn him into a grease spot.

Note to Rob Neyer readers: The second post to which Rob links somehow got mixed up. This is the 1992 World Series story he's referring to. And of course, enjoy some more ShysterBall.

1 comment:

Chris Heer said...

My father once said to me that the highest cost of doing business in America is ego.

Leaving aside the comment about Williams being no dummy (didn't he acquire Erstad on purpose once?), you have to believe that his reaction is partly fueled by ego.

He's certainly got a lot more to lose by continuing than Canseco does...in fact, it seems to me that the more people feed Canseco attention and publicity, the better off he is.