Defamation of Depp Continues

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Sunday Island on June 12, 2022.

Defamation of Depp Continues


Padraig Colman

In last week’s article, I warned that the Depp case was not over even though the jury had sung. In February 2019, Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation over a December 2018 op-ed for the Washington Post in which she claimed to speak for women who had suffered intimate partner violence.  Heard counter-sued Depp in August 2020, alleging that he had coordinated “a harassment campaign”. For Depp’s lawsuit, on June 1, 2022, a jury in Fairfax Virginia found that all three statements from Heard’s op-ed were false, defamed Depp, and were made with actual malice. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages from Heard. The punitive damages were reduced to $350,000 due to a limit imposed by Virginia state law. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and zero in punitive damages from Depp. In short, the jury believed Depp and thought Heard was lying.

Not Western Union

In their closing statements, Heard’s principal lawyers Elaine Bredehoft and Ben Rottenborn called on the jury to send a message to abused women everywhere by supporting Heard’s version of events. This was not an acceptable approach and should have been challenged by Depp’s team. They complained later but, as YouTube lawyer Emily D Baker commented, “that shit has left the horse.”

A jury is not Western Union. Its job is not to send messages but to decide on facts.

After the trial was over, Bredehoft did a number of TV interviews in which she made the same point and also trod on dangerous ground for a working lawyer by implying that the jury had not followed instructions to avoid reading about the case and that the judge was biased. She also referred to the Depp legal team holding “a victory parade.” In fact, Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez did not do any TV interviews until after Bredehoft had abruptly ceased hers. It may be that she had been reprimanded for her conduct by the judge. The trial is not officially over until June 24 and Bredehoft’s conduct veers dangerously close to contempt of court. She is also giving Depp further grounds to sue for defamation. Chew and Vasquez conducted themselves with dignity in their interviews, refusing to criticise their opponents – they used the word “disappointed” a lot.

The trial verdict was seen as a setback for the Me Too movement. I rejoiced at MeToo because it seemed to herald a significant cultural change which should be beneficial to women. I noted that the legal system was capable of finding out the facts about Harvey Weinstein and convicting him. Despite the alleged widespread misogyny demonstrated by the Depp case, Weinstein is still in jail. Calling out a woman for being a liar is not misogyny.

MSM and Misogyny

The MSM (mainstream media) have generally taken Heard’s side and not shown much interest in the facts. The Guardian’s take on the case has been particularly egregious throughout. It has run a number of opinion pieces which were short on fact and heavy on generalisation. In an article headed “An orgy of misogyny”, Moira Donegan wrote: “The strange, illogical, and unjust ruling has the effect of sanctioning Depp’s alleged abuse of Heard, and of punishing Heard for speaking about it. It will have a devastating effect on survivors, who will be silenced, now, with the knowledge that they cannot speak about their violent experiences at men’s hands without the threat of a ruinous libel suit. In that sense, women’s speech just became a lot less free.” It is no longer “alleged abuse”. It is no longer abuse. A Guardian editorial said, “There is a risk that, in future, other women who wish to speak or write about domestic abuse may be deterred by the fear of being sued by former partners.”

Throughout the proceedings the MSM had taken the side of Heard because she was seen to be representative of abused women. This ignores the obvious fact that thousands of women were rooting for Depp. Andrea Burkhart is an experienced criminal lawyer. She addresses the misogyny issue thus: “Mainstream media are saying that millions of women support Depp because they want to fuck him. That in itself is misogynist.”

The MSM cannot cope with the fact that millions of women, including real victims of violent abuse support and believe Depp. It is ironic that the MSM claims to be speaking in the public interest and on behalf of women but most women disagree with them. It ignores the high profile involvement of women. We are able to make our own judgement and it is insulting to be told by people who have not been following the trial that we are misogynist. 

At least some in the MSM had a sense of reality and justice. Jack Houghton of Sky News Australia wrote: “Individual cases of sexual or physical violence should not be conflated with others. Each allegation needs to be assessed in isolation. Many are true and many are not. That is why we have courts. Instead, many in the media want us to view cases as collectivised examples of cultural trends. The problem with this narrative is that when a court does find that a woman has lied about her experience, #MeToo activists find it hard to separate that notion from their reality.”

The MSM in general are proving to be sore losers. Even the Washington Post, which published the defamatory article in the first place, is showing no contrition for getting it wrong. I have cancelled my subscription. The view that one gets from the mainstream media is very different from what one gets from actually watching the proceedings and listening to YouTube discussions of the legal aspects. Someone who attended the court said there was no MSM there to report on it. The MSM has been struck with a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb. Tapes clearly prove that Heard assaulted Depp and berated him for running away and avoiding conflict.

The LA Times was so out of touch that it published an article saying that Aquaman star Jason Momoa had given evidence; he had not as anyone who had been watching the trial would have known. The LA Times was fooled by fake video of Jason Momoa.

YouTube Lawyers

I feel more qualified to comment on the trial than those commenting in the Guardian.I actually watched the proceedings live or in repeats. I listened to endless discussions on YouTube in which experienced, qualified, practising attorneys discussed the evidence and the technicalities of the procedures. A community developed. As with other online communities, there were fallings out and a couple of the participants seemed a little sleazy to me. Nevertheless, it was good to see productive friendships develop as they guested on each other’s YouTube channels. Ian Runkle travelled from Alberta, Canada to endure the rigours of the line and actually attend the hearings. Rob Moreton, who is a lawyer in Fairfax, Virginia also attended and gave Runkle bed and board and whiskey. Moreton does a channel called Law and Carpentry. He brought his knowledge of wood to debunk Heard’s story about the bed being damaged by Depp’s boot. He claimed the damage was caused by a knife and managed to locate a knife in the photo of the bed.

A number of other lawyers bring their helpful knowledge to YouTube in an entertaining and stimulating fashion : Peter Dragos, Bruce Rivers, Nate Broady, Daniel ShenSmith (an English Barrister who sheds light on the UK case). Quite a number of the YouTube lawyers are females who started out thinking that Depp could not win.One of them was Natalie Whittingham-Burrell who was busy with a double-homicide trial when the Depp trial began. As the Depp trial developed she began to change her mind. Eventually, she wrote an article about the trial which she could not get into MSM. Someone plagiarised it though. She published the article on Medium. In it, she says:”It is exceptionally difficult for a celebrity to win a defamation case. Like all other litigants, Depp had to prove that Heard defamed him by a preponderance of the evidence. However, as a celebrity, Depp had the additional burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that Heard acted with actual malice in defaming him.” She continues: “Based on the rubric provided to the jury and the facts actually presented at trial, I came to a jarring conclusion: Amber Heard was not credible.”

“The call to “believe all women” as a solution to the problem with physical and sexual abuse is alarming, dangerous and counterproductive. This is best explained if we outright state the inverse: “disbelieve all men”. This framework asks for the public, the media and the courts to disregard the presumption of innocence. The problem with allegations of sexual abuse being swept under the rug, cannot be solved with treating those accused of abuse as though they are guilty without the accused being given an opportunity to be heard in a court of law.”

Taylor Lorenz

The Washington Post has gone to war with social media.The Washington Post was the paper that found out the facts about Watergate and brought about President Nixon’s resignation. The main lesson of that saga was that the cover up is usually more dangerous than the initial crime. When in a hole stop digging. The current iteration of the Post seems to have forgotten that lesson.

Taylor Lorenz published an article in the Post which set out to demonize those on YouTube who were covering the case. There are practising and experienced attorneys who have channels on YouTube and have brought their knowledge and expertise to analysing the proceedings and explained legal technicalities to lay people. They started out as individuals but have formed a community and have been appearing on each other’s channels. A British barrister is also contributing with his knowledge about the UK libel case against the Sun which Depp lost. He has started a petition to get that verdict overturned. There have been some fallings out in this community but generally they stick together and talk good sense.

Lorenz’s article was rather peculiar in that it mentioned some teenage Instagrammers that nobody had ever heard of. She quoted them as saying they made modest amounts of money from posting about the trial. One of them said he had gone on Instagram to see pictures of hot guys. These people are not influencers in the Depp case.

Her main thrust was against two YouTubers whose work I have found useful. “LegalBytes” host Alyte Mazeika is a lawyer and she has chaired many discussions involving other lawyers. TUG (That Umbrella Guy) is a mental health professional who has been investigating the Depp case for about six years and has come up with a wealth of information of which the MSM knows nothing.

Lorenz claimed in her article that she had reached out to those two for comment but they had not responded. They were able to prove that she was lying. The Post stealth-edited the erroneous claim from Lorenz’s report, though it remains unclear whether she herself removed the claim or an editor did the needful. I will not bore you with the numerous confusing corrections that have subsequently been made.

Lorenz’s main gripe was that YouTube “content creators” benefited from the courtroom frenzy by increasing their audience and making money. Lorenz alleged that according to Business Insider, Mazeika “earned $5,000 in one week by pivoting the content on her YouTube channel to nonstop trial coverage and analysis.” She also claimed that ThatUmbrellaGuy “earned up to $80,000 last month, according to an estimate by social analytics firm Social Blade.” TUG responded: “The Washington Post also FLAGRANTLY misrepresented my earnings report and needs to correct it. Social Blade says I made between $4.9k and $79.1k. They ADDED TO the highest estimate, over-reporting for dramatic effect.”

It is ironic that what has come to be called the legacy press is whining about YouTubers monetizing content when there are ads all over the Washington Post and the paper is owned by possibly the richest man on earth, Jeff Bezos. The YouTubers have got their hands dirty by actually digging out facts and some have queued up under gruelling conditions to attend the court. The MSM has not bothered to attend.

Elaine Bredehoft said the trial should not have been televised but being televised meant that millions were watching and deciding whether Heard was credible. Millions will lose their trust in media if the MSM tell millions that they are mistaken. A majority of people watching the trial were female. I have read thousands of comment on YouTube and overwhelmingly the females, especially those who identify as abuse victims, despise Heard. Initially, Amber was believed. The allegations were treated seriously and investigated but were found wanting. Depp’s case was an uphill struggle but many who doubted him at the beginning ended up believing him. Many have taken the line, “We did support Amber and she played us.”

A lot of people will mistrust the MSM after this. You think they are doing real journalism but they have let you down. The Washington Post inserted a sour note into its coverage of the Congressional hearings on the attack on the Capitol. “Maybe someday, if democracy is again under attack, such a horrific event will seem more urgent than a verdict in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial.” Maybe someday we can rely on the MSM to report the truth. Whatever Taylor Lorenz might say many people place more trust in YouTube than they do in the legacy press.