ALEX JONES SWITCHES UP DEFENSE IN SANDY HOOK CASE
Alex Jones, the notorious host of the radio show “InfoWars” is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the parent of a child killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. The suit seeks damages for the infliction of intentional distress based on Jones’ repeated statements that the shooting was a hoax.
According to an article in the Austin Statesman, Jones is now adopting a straight legal argument in the case – that a party not named specifically in the rant can’t bring an emotional distress claim as a matter of law.
As a result of the new strategy, Jones is no longer contesting whether he intentionally made the hoax statements, knowing they were false. Effectively the court is now being asked to decide whether Jones can utter knowing falsehoods about a fairly specific group of people and escape liability simply because he didn’t use individual names.
We’ll see. I’m not sure the court will draw that bright a line. And I think the tort of emotional distress already accounts for the issue in a way. An element of the tort is whether Jones’ conduct is “beyond all possible bounds of decency.” In applying that standard, the court would likely consider the identity of the plaintiff. That is, I am pretty upset by Jones’ statements. But if I sued, my case would be dismissed for a host of reasons, but among them would be that it is not beyond the bounds of decency to offend someone unconnected with the event.
And if Jones’ rant was more general – “all mass shootings are false flag hoaxes” – I’d imagine the father in this case wouldn’t have a case.
But it seems to me it’s a tougher call when a person intimately involved with a specific event hears that the traumatic event never happened, and by extension, that person is perpetuating a hoax on the American public. This seems especially so when the speaker knows what he’s saying is false.
Jones’ lawyer contends that “[i]f we lose this case at the Supreme Court, the First Amendment is dead letter law for large numbers of the independent press in this country.” I’m not so sure. I think the First Amendment is robust enough to survive a loss by Jones in this case. It is very clear that the First Amendment does not protect knowing falsehoods that cause damage. And the notion that simply not mentioning the names of the members of a relatively small group (27 kids died at Sandy Hook) seems like a pretty wide loophole.