TGIF: Another Week in Defamation Nation
Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard. Pride for straight people. And other items we can't stop talking about.
Welcome back to TGIF. It’s the links we’re talking about in our Common Sense Slack, and it’s a roundup of what we ran this week.
I can’t believe we’re leading with this, but let’s be honest, here is The Topic of the day:
→ Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard: Johnny Depp won a huge defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, who accused him of domestic abuse. She now owes him about $10 million total. (The mainstream press is trying to spin it as if they both lost, since Depp was ordered to pay $2 million to Heard for defamation, too. But this win is huge for him and could force her into bankruptcy.)
The fateful article, which Heard published in the Washington Post in 2018, had been in part written by the ACLU, in exchange for a promised $3.5 million donation from Heard. This was the frothy peak of #MeToo, heady times when all of liberal America decided to root out all of sexual malfeasance. (Or at least the kind that happened among rich people. At workplaces like McDonald’s, not so much.)
Rumor and innuendo and thinly sourced stories were the name of the game back then. To be honest, Heard’s particular piece never struck me as even close to the most egregious. (I would say the Moira Donegan “Shitty Media Men” list accusing random men of rape wins on that front. The case against her, brought by Stephen Elliott, looks like it’ll go to trial.)
In the trial, evidence emerged of Heard contradicting herself. For example, Heard said she had no idea paparazzi would be there to photograph a bruise as she left the court after filing for a temporary restraining order, but a former TMZ employee took the stand and said they’d been tipped off and Heard herself had testified to that tipoff in her deposition. She had declared publicly that she had donated $7 million of her divorce settlement, then tried to say a pledge was the same as a donation. She denied the poop. But, well, look at it.
It takes a lot to lose a defamation trial in America, but to that jury, Heard became a very unreliable narrator.
There were deeply unsavory bits about Depp—his nightmarish texts fantasizing about hurting Heard, for starters, and his addictions. He came off as a man who, while they were together, was booze-addled and angry. By the time Kate Moss showed up on Zoom from Gloucestershire, it was a high-octane celebrity circus and no one was looking good (except Moss, of course).
The best summary of why exactly Heard lost comes from criminal defense attorney turned YouTube personality Natalie Whittingham Burrell, who calls herself Natalie the Lawyer Chick and broke it all down beat by beat. (Thank you Lawyer Chick!).
Some surprising people have come to Depp’s defense. Among them: feminist hero Ayaan Hirsi Ali. More predictably, conservatives have embraced Depp as the man who defeated #MeToo insanity (even though he is definitely not a GOP ally), and much of the establishment left has embraced Heard as the wronged woman . . . except TikTok obsessed kids who actually went very pro-Depp, and we’re not really sure what to make of them yet. (Is this the vibe shift?)
Here’s the upshot, as I see it: People took a lot of shit for warning against the excesses of the Me Too movement and the nonsense of #BelieveAllWomen. But this is exactly why caution was needed. This is why people, journalists especially, needed to be meticulous before putting huge allegations into the public sphere. Now we’re into the lawsuits that, in retrospect, were inevitable; Depp’s surely won’t be the last.
Heard’s lawyer says she will definitely appeal the decision.
→ Now we must endure Pride: Straight liberals with non-traditional haircuts needed a holiday for themselves, and they have one this month with Pride. The rest of us must endure it. My favorite banner for a “dyke” march in Chicago included a woman dancing on top of a cop car, the words ACAB (all cops are bastards), and a burning Israeli flag (very pro-gay culture in Gaza, I’ve heard). Uniformed gay cops aren’t allowed to march in most of our big city parades (cops are bastards). Jewish stars can’t be flown in some of the marches (Judaism is about Israel, and Zionism is racism, so no Jewish stuff allowed). It’s all very inclusive, you see.
To honor modern Pride Month, read this important first person account: “I am queer and proud—even though I am now married to a man.” Or here’s this new study that finds: “The majority of the increase in LGBT identity can be traced to how those who only engage in heterosexual behavior describe themselves.” I think technically I’m straight now.
The U.S. Marines meanwhile posted some gay pride bullets, which a lot of people made fun of, but I actually respect the derangement of the gesture (in a sick coat the bullet in pork fat sort of way).
→ Over at Amazon: A few dozen Amazon employees are staging a “die-in” protest where they are laying down on the street because the company sells Common Sense friend Abigail Shrier’s book about adolescent girl gender transitions being in part—brace yourselves—a social trend. These employees seem to have no problem when their company partners with the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda arm to, among other things, remove negative reviews from a film called “Amazing China.” No die-ins for the Uyghurs. None for the Amazon warehouse workers. But when you come for teenage mastectomies, you better watch out!
→ Russiagate is something we will never not hear about: This week, Hilary Clinton’s former campaign lawyer Michael Sussman was acquitted in a case that accused him of lying to the FBI. It was a win for the Clintons technically, though during the trial it was revealed that, while running for president, Clinton herself approved of disseminating the conspiracy that Trump had a secret link to a Russian bank called Alfa Bank.
Readers of this newsletter know that I was one of the idiots who really believed the Steele dossier and all the rest of what I was reading back in 2016 and 2017. Now, all of that has been debunked. Today, the only writer I trust on the matter is Matt Taibbi, who has given us the smartest piece on the Sussman trial and what it all means, rehashing tidbits of Russiagate that had been quickly pushed under the rug along the way. Like: “The Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign recently agreed to pay a $113,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission for concealing their role in producing the Steele research.” To repeat: the DNC and the Clinton campaign produced the only real piece of “evidence” that Trump colluded with Russia.
Huge swaths of America (like the White House press secretary) still believe 2016 was illegitimate and that Trump was a Russian plant. It’s important to know the truth of what happened back then. It’ll be a while before that reckoning though, because of the phenomenon I refer to as . . .
→ Time Laundering! Let me explain. If I get a present I don’t want but can’t return or give away without offending the gifter, there’s something I do that I call Time Laundering. I leave the item in its box in my closet for a year, maybe two, maybe if it’s from my mom who I love very much then it’s even three years. When enough time has passed, I can look at the item, say oh my gosh it’s been three years and I’ve never worn this, and give it to a friend or to Goodwill, guilt-free.
This is how American mainstream news handles the most interesting stories of the day when they happen to be inconvenient to the prevailing narrative. The best example of this is the Hunter Biden laptop, which was only allowed in right-wing media and was declared fake news—until it wasn’t, but not until 18 months after it mattered. Or disinformation, which was delineated by God and could never be questioned, until the conservative press had loosened up the jar and the topic could be looked upon.
There are endless examples. Two just this week: Harper’s can now safely bring us this skeptical piece about Covid controls being maybe also about social control! Years in, after all the socially risky reporting done by very bad people, the New York Times can bring us a thoughtful and smart piece on Lia Thomas and trans athletes. These ideas have now been gently tumbled in the time laundry machine. Those who did the dirty work of breaking these stories? Those who didn’t wait the appropriate number of years? Shhh, a new New Yorker podcast just dropped, apparently Bill Clinton went on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane.