Andrew Breitbart Served With Shirley Sherrod’s Defamation Lawsuit At CPAC

I wasn’t witness to it, and didn’t actually hear about it until I was leaving the hotel this morning, but at some point yesterday Andrew Breitbart was officially served with a defamation complaint filed by Shirley Sherrod in connection with the controversy that erupted last July over an edited video of comments by her released by one of Breitbart’s websites:

Andrew Breitbart, the owner of several conservative Web sites, was served at the conference on Saturday with a lawsuit filed by Shirley Sherrod, the former Agriculture Department employee who lost her job last year over a video that Mr. Brietbart posted at his site biggovernment.com.

The video was selectively edited so that it appeared Ms. Sherrod was confessing she had discriminated against a farmer because he was white. In the suit, which was filed in Washington on Friday, Ms. Sherrod says the video has damaged her reputation and prevented her from continuing her work.

Mr. Breitbart said in a statement that he “categorically rejects the transparent effort to chill his constitutionally protected free speech.”

Brietbart’s full statement actually goes further than that, and picks up on his current obsession with a Department of Agriculture program to compensate African-American farmers who were discriminated against, which he contends was actually disguised slavery reparations:

Andrew Breitbart said, in response to being sued, “I find it extremely telling that this lawsuit was brought almost seven months after the alleged incidents that caused a national media frenzy occurred. It is no coincidence that this lawsuit was filed one day after I held a press conference revealing audio proof of orchestrated and systemic Pigford fraud. I can promise you this: neither I, nor my journalistic websites, will or can be silenced by the institutional Left, which is obviously funding this lawsuit. I welcome the judicial discovery process, including finding out which groups are doing so.”

On Thursday, February 10, 2011, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Mr. Breitbart held a national press conference at which he, Huffington Post blogger Lee Stranahan, and black farmer Eddie Slaughter presented compelling evidence for, and Representatives Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Steve King (R-IA) specifically called for, Congressional investigation into the Pigford case.

At the press conference, Mr. Breitbart revealed two hours of audio of Thomas Burrell, the head of the Black Farmers & Agriculturalist Association, Inc., teaching non-farmers in the South how to commit fraud in the Pigford “back-door” reparations case. This audio conclusively demonstrates how people have conspired to grow the class of Pigford claimants to 94,000, when in fact, there were only about 18,000 black farmers in the entire country during the relevant time period, and when there were never anticipated to be more than a few thousand potential claimants among those 18,000. The numbers just do not and cannot add up.

“I am determined to obtain justice for the truly and legitimately discriminated against American black farmers, who have heretofore been denied justice by the USDA and the Pigford case,” Andrew Breitbart said. “Nothing will deter my efforts to makes them whole. I will simultaneously continue to fight relentlessly against the efforts of those who would use these working American farmers to defraud the American taxpayer to the tune of billions of dollars. This new lawsuit will not stop the American public from finding out what is really going on, who is directly culpable, and the critical role of the Pigford claimant in all off this.”

Without seeing a copy of the Complaint, I can’t really comment on the merits of Sherrod’s lawsuit, although I will say that I think that those who think that Breitbart will be able to rely on the argument that Sherrod was a  “public figure” as defined by New York Times v. Sullivan and subsequent cases for defamation purposes are mistaken. One has to think that Breitbart knew this lawsuit was coming, though, given how hard he was pushing this Pigford story at CPAC, including spending almost ten minutes talking about it in Blogger’s Lounge.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chad S says:

    Sherrod would still have a case if she can show that Brietbart knowingly edited the tapes(or had them edited) to defame her.

  2. Jay Tea says:

    I’m no lawyer, but in the court of common sense Breitbart has numerous defenses.

    1) He claims to not be the party that edited the video, and there is no proof to refute that.

    B) The NAACP — the host of the event and original owner of the video — initially responded to condemn Sherrod in undue haste, before exercising due diligence and ascertaining the facts.

    III) The Obama administration, likewise, overreacted and didn’t verify any of it before acting.

    d) The Obama administration apologized and offered Sherrod her old job back. There was no long-term harm to Sherrod; one could argue that it actually helped her career, because the full context of the video showed her in a positive light, and generated public sympathy for her. Sadly, she’s chosen to forgo her previous vocation and now wants to make a living as a professional “victim of the right-wing conspiracy.”

    But Breitbart’s point about the timing is germane. That video incident got the Pigford case on his radar, and he’s been after that scandal ever since.

    J.

  3. Michael says:

    She is an idiot. Did’nt her lawyer mention the fact that now everything is subject to deposition? She is going to have to spill everything she knows.

  4. EddieInCA says:

    Michael –

    I would think that Breitbart is in more peril from discovery than Sherrod. What exactly do you think Sherrod knows what would hurt her case?

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. I hope she takes his house in West LA. And as EddieinCA remarks Discovery on Breitbart could turn into one of the most productive fishing trips in history.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Jay:

    The reactions or overreactions of others aren’t defenses for Breitbart, they’re evidence of damages.

  7. jwest says:

    This action by Sherrod will only help Breitbart.

    The original article and video clip sought to highlight the racist reaction of the audience at the NAACP event, not attack Sherrod. The hysterical reaction by the Obama administration was only thing detrimental to Sherrod’s reputation.

    Now that she has exposed herself to discovery, her activities in the Pigford scam will be subject to sworn testimony – not a good place for her to be.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    not a good place for her to be.

    Assuming she has competent counsel she would not have filed if she feared discovery. Her lawyers will presumably have done their due diligence.

  9. jwest says:

    Michael,

    Have you spent much time in depositions? Competent counsel is tough enough to find, without the other complications.

    People lie to their own lawyers. They leave out ultra-critical details that could not only ruin their case, but place them at enormous risk of civil or criminal action if discovered. People believe they can control the conversation and they will never be trapped or tricked.

    Sherrod got her dose of self-righteousness after everyone conflated and disguised the Breitbart article. She had an open and shut case against the administration, but someone is out to make a political point and she’s dumb enough to think she’s protected.

  10. sam says:

    @jwest

    “The original article and video clip sought to highlight the racist reaction of the audience at the NAACP event, not attack Sherrod.”

    Bullshit. Here’s Brietbart:

    We are in possession of a video from in which Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, speaks at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia. In her meandering speech to what appears to be an all-black audience, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.

    In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn’t do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from “one of his own kind”. She refers him to a white lawyer.

    Sherrod’s racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.

    From, Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism–2010

    Note the beginning, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.

    As was subsequently shown, the whole point of the speech was that she moved beyond that.

    I hope her lawyer and the jury sticks it up Breitbart’s ass and breaks it off at the hilt.

  11. Mr B says:

    Reading comprehension not a strong suit of yours Sam?

    From your own post.

    “Sherrod’s racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.”

    He described the tale and capped it with how it was received by the audience. They agreed with the racist part of the tale and fell silent at the end when she revealed her enlightenment.

    Then you said.

    “Note the beginning, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.

    As was subsequently shown, the whole point of the speech was that she moved beyond that.”

    Thank you for reiterating Andrews point. The problem is that the audience did not “move beyond that”.

  12. sam says:

    Andrew’s point, bullshit. In the part I highlighted, he was talking about her directly, as he reiterated to TPM:

    But even if the full video shows what Sherrod says it does, Breitbart said he’s seen enough.
    “I think the video speaks for itself,” he said. “The way she’s talking about white people … is conveying a present tense racism in my opinion. But racism is in the eye of the beholder.” [Breitbart On Sherrod’s NAACP Speech: ‘I Did Not Edit This Thing’]

    Her “present tense” racism is what he is asserting in this and in what I quoted before (that “eye of the beholder” dodge notwithstanding). Even, as the full video shows, it was a story prefatory to her saying she’d moved beyond that. Her case against him is what his conduct and printed words say about her, not the audience.

    Good thing for him you won’t be his lawyer in case.

  13. wr says:

    Of course the hilarious thing is that Jwest thinks all sorts of terrible stuff will come out about Sherrod during discovery… and he only thinks that because Breitbart said what a horrible person she is. Unless jwest can say he had some previous interaction with the woman, he’s exhibit A for Sherrod’s case…

  14. tom p says:

    I have a question: is it possible to be “racist” against one’s own race? Or is it just impossible for me to ignore the inherent racism within certain strains of “conservatism”???

    Really guys, I know some of you are not racist, but when people like jwest and superdestroyer speak up and the rest of you DO NOT SPEAK OUT AGAINST THEM….

    What am I to think? What am I to do?

  15. BM says:

    The idea that Breitbart would be protected because he didn’t personally edit the video is hilarious! It was almost surely his employee who edited the video. If it was not he was still negligent in distributing a video that normal due diligence would have revealed to be libelous. That Sherrod was offered her old position back is irrelevant. She can compellingly argue that her reputation and effectiveness was damaged beyond repair.

    Breitbart is in deep shit.

  16. Jay Tea says:

    BM, if “who edited the video” is irrelevant, why do you want to hang it around Breitbart? He’d be an IDIOT to do that in any way that could be proven in court, and say what you want about him, he’s no idiot.

    When the full video came out, Breitbart published it and apologized for the incomplete video. And Sherrod’s claim is based on harm to her career; she was offered her job back, with intangible but prety much ironclad guarantees of not only greater job security, but greatly enhanced chances for advancement. She CHOSE to not mitigate the damages, instead taking on the role of “professional victim of the vast right wing conspiracy” and going on her speaking tour.

    But, as noted, discovery should be interesting. Sherrod was involved in the whole Pigford case, and I bet she knows a lot of very interesting things about that mess…

    J.

  17. BM says:

    Jay Tea:

    You’re assuming that Breitbart had the foresight to avoid involvement. I doubt he did.

    As far as the mitigation argument, I don’t think that flies. This is not a contract law case. Damages will be calculated in a much more generous fashion if Breitbart loses.

  18. Jay Tea says:

    BM, he denies it. And considering how many enemies he’s made and is still around, he must have some brains and a healthy self-preservation instict.

    Another important part, at least to me, is that the video was not altered. Yes, it was edited, but it was an accurate representation of her speech, and the reactions of the attendees. Yes, only a partial one, but an accurate one.

    Breitbart says he did contact the NAACP for the full video beforehand, and was rebuffed. So he can argue some “due diligence” there.

    The bigger picture here is how quickly the NAACP and the Obama administration reacted. They took their actions within hours of its release — I once constructed the timeline, and they jumped immediately when Breitbart barked. They can say all they want about how much an awful person he is, but when it came down to it, they took him at his word and reacted as if the video was accurate and complete without taking an instant of time to double-check it.

    Sherrod’s main beef should be with her former bosses and the NAACP, who so hastily threw her under the bus without even asking her for her side of the story.

    J.

  19. BM says:

    He can deny whatever he wants. He published the video to third parties. That’s what libel and defamation of character is.

    Let me give you an example:

    I publish in my widely read newspaper that Jay Tea loves walnuts. In the state that Jay Tea lives in, walnuts are considered the devil’s food, and no self respecting person would associate with a walnut lover.

    The next day, Jay Tea gets fired from his lucrative chestnut roasting job based on the story that I distributed.

    Several days later it comes to pass that in a more complete version of the story, Jay Tea actually related a story about how he had a dream about loving walnuts and he awoke disgusted and thought it was a parable for right living.

    The chestnut roasting factory offers Jay Tea his job back, but at this point he feels like his effectiveness as a chestnut roaster has been hopelessly compromised.

    Moreover, the anti-Walnut league has made Jay Tea into a poster child for everything is wrong with a walnut loving administration.

    Many people now associate walnut loving with Jay Tea despite the subsequent stories (which most of them have not read).

    Does my defense that I had no part in creating the story that I chose to distribute or that the chestnut roasting factory offered you your job back have any persuasive force?

    Think about it.