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ICYMI: It is Possible to Defame Jesse Ventura

ICYMI: It is Possible to Defame Jesse Ventura

“The Body” reigns victorious over “American Sniper” Chris Kyle’s widow.

A long legal battle ended Tuesday as federal jury awarded former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura over a million dollars in damages in his defamation lawsuit against the widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle. Ventura sued widow Tara Kyle over her husband Chris Kyle’s depiction of Ventura’s participation in a 2006 bar fight.

From the AP:

A federal jury sided with Ventura in his lawsuit against “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle, who was killed last year in Texas. Though Ventura honed a tough-guy reputation as a pro wrestler and action movie actor, he maintained the legal battle was about clearing his name among his beloved fellow Navy SEALs, not about losing a supposed fight.

Kyle — reputed to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history — said in his memoir that he punched Ventura in California in 2006 after Ventura said the SEALs “deserved to lose a few” in Iraq. Ventura disputed that the confrontation, including the punch, ever happened.

An 8-2 jury awarded Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million under the theory of unjust enrichment, saying that a portion of Kyle’s profits from his book were gained at the expense of Ventura’s reputation.

After threats of a hung jury plagued the courtroom, lawyers on both sides agreed to accept a verdict if 8 of the jurors agreed as to the result. Although it’s likely that the unjust enrichment portion of the damages will be paid by publisher HarperCollins’ insurance policy, Ventura’s attorneys are expected to go one step further by demanding HarperCollins remove the disputed section from Kyle’s book.

Defamation lawsuits are tricky animals, especially when they’re brought against a public figure. If the matter being sued over is “a matter of public concern” (and this most certainly was, considering the most famous sniper in American history made statements about one of the most famous American governors in history,) we’re looking at charge of “constitutional defamation.” These cases are desperately difficult to win on behalf of a famous plaintiff—-and Ventura’s lawyers won.

The internet is currently on fire over the verdict, blaming everyone from Kyle’s lawyers (They never should have agreed to a non-unanimous verdict!) to the jury pool (How in the heck could a jury find that JESSE VENTURA’S reputation was damaged? The guy is a clown!) for allowing the wife of a heralded soldier to bear the burden of a seemingly ridiculous defamation suit.

The problem with drawing conclusions following media coverage of a jury trial is that reporters tend to leave out the nuances and inconvenient facts that define a case. For example, the media rightly reported that, in order to find in favor of Ventura, the jury needed to prove that Chris Kyle acted with actual malice when he wrote his book; that is to say, that Kyle either knew his statements were false, or acted with reckless disregard as to whether they were false or not. What the media didn’t choose to cover is how difficult it is for an attorney to prove that a defendant acted with actual malice against a public figure.

Elton John lost his 2008 defamation suit against The Guardian, and Tom Cruise settled his against In Touch and Life & Style magazines; they did this not only because they’d already gone public with their fight, but because they knew that proving actual malice in their case would be extremely difficult.

The fact that 8 out of 10 average Americans looked at the facts and allowed Jesse Ventura to come out on top is not insignificant.

It’s likely Kyle’s lawyers knew what was coming, and were relying on a sympathetic jury to rally at least 8 members in their favor. It’s a strategic decision that didn’t work out, but it was nonetheless strategic, and I’m willing to give the attorneys the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday’s verdict was an upsetting conclusion to a years-long legal battle involving one of America’s best, but remember: nothing that happened in that court room will ever take away from the fact that Chris Kyle was one of the bravest soldiers ever to make the ultimate sacrifice while assisting a brother in arms.

To me, that’s a lot more significant than maintaining your reputation as “The Body.”


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I am not impressed that eight out of ten Minnesotans voted “not guilty”. They elected this fool in the first place.

Justice was not done yesterday.

    creeper in reply to creeper. | July 30, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Darn it. Need “Edit” function: “voted GUILTY”.

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to creeper. | July 30, 2014 at 10:52 am

    If it was 8-2, then shouldn’t he be just four-fifths exonerated?

    This guy’s whole professional – no, make that “professional” – life has been about fakery, conspiracy and insinuation, so why is he now so obsessed with “truth”?

    The truth is this: we’re all sick of this ‘rassler, turned politician, turned conspiracy nut. America said, “Go away!” He needed a payday, and a dead man’s widow seemed like fair game to him. Prove me wrong, has-been, and turn down all but one-dollar of the settlement!

    Instead of removing it from the book, just footnote it.

    Spiny Norman in reply to creeper. | July 30, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Is there some way to appeal this?

Jesse Ventura should be shunned and his new reputation as a bully who sues money from widows and children should hound him to his grave.

So if I understand correctly…

Ventura’s attorneys presented witnesses that claimed the punch didn’t happen, and Kyle’s attorneys presented witnesses that it did.

Since it is a civil trial, the jury had to decide then that the preponderance of evidence based on these witnesses was that Ventura’s take was accurate, there was no way that there was a simple confusion between the two groups, and that Kyle knew what he wrote was false and intentionally did so to defame Ventura?

I don’t see any way that is possible frankly…what am I missing?

    sequester in reply to 18-1. | July 30, 2014 at 10:50 am

    I am not sure how the actual malice standard can be met, particularly since Kyle was not around to testify.

    After death, the case can continue only at the discretion of the judge. The Defendant was placed at a significant disadvantage by not having Kyle around to testify. For example Kyle may have been the only one who heard the alleged proactive statement that led to the punch.

    It’s Minnesota.

      TrooperJohnSmith in reply to sequester. | July 30, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Jesse! Jesse! Jesse!

      I’ve heard Dutch Savage, Superfly Snuka, Mad Dog Vachon and Jimmy Brunzell say a LOT worse about you over the years. Sometimes they even beat your ass and left you out cold! Did they not hurt your reputation? Where’s your outrage?

      (Note: Yes, I know it is. I just couldn’t resist. I hate bullies.)

      One thing about it, he better spend his coin wisely, because after this, he’ll never work in the public eye, ever again!

      Milhouse in reply to sequester. | July 30, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      Actual malice should have been easy to prove. If the story was not true, then Kyle must have known it wasn’t true, which automatically makes him guilty.

      The “actual malice” barrier is only relevant when the defendant did not claim personal knowledge of his allegations, but relied on a third party. Then he may claim that while his informant turned out to be lying, he had no way of knowing that at the time. But when he claims to have personally witnessed the alleged incident, let alone to have personally participated in it, and it’s proven false, then actual malice is automatic.

        sequester in reply to Milhouse. | July 31, 2014 at 10:07 pm

        Hard to say what Kyle “knew” when he could not testify and be subjected to cross-examination.

        Actual malice depended on what was in Kyle’s head and heart. The jury never got to hear Kyle’s testimony and evaluate it. This is a case that should have died with Kyle.

    The missing element is it in Minnesota., where “Justice” and “Minnesota” never go together,

    jesses witnesses said they were not there all the time.
    kyles witnesses said it happened as stated.
    something seems wrong here, wish we had transcripts and stuff.
    I suspect we’ll get more info if this is appealed.
    and for the record, a non-seal with no combat experience (he says he was a seal who saw combat) who prances around wearing leotards and a boa who pushes 911 conspiracies cannot be defamed.
    no matter what a jury says he could not be defamed by anyone worse than he has defamed himself.
    this jury had 8 f*ing idiots on it.

      Milhouse in reply to dmacleo. | July 30, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      The jury obviously found that Kyle’s witnesses were damned liars, just like him.

      and for the record, a non-seal with no combat experience (he says he was a seal who saw combat)

      That is a lie.

        genes in reply to Milhouse. | July 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

        You have a link that shows he was?

          Milhouse in reply to genes. | July 31, 2014 at 2:47 am

          Your lie is “he says he was a seal who saw combat”. He never claimed to have seen combat.

          And yes, he was a frogman, in what is now called the SEALs, though at the time it was called the Underwater Demolition Teams.

    Apparently, witness statements on behalf of Kyle were inconsistent. That, coupled with the substantial media presence surrounding the case (and Kyle himself) may have led the jury to a finding of actual malice.

    Milhouse in reply to 18-1. | July 30, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    I don’t get why you find it hard to believe. Juries are constantly deciding which witnesses to believe and which not to. Why would this case be different?

    May I suggest that people read one set of the legal briefs supplied by both sides of this case? They can be found here:

    The briefs tell a different story and explain the standard for “malice.”

    Compelling to me in the arguments was the fact that the next day at a BUDS graduation ceremony, Ventura did not have a mark on his face. One would think that a blow that would knock a person to the ground where allegedly hit his head on concrete would have left a mark of some type.

    Ventura did not sue Kyle’s wife and kids. Ventura sued Kyle’s estate. His wife is the executrix of that estate. If the law firm of Dewey Cheatem and Howe was the executor of the estate, it would not have made a difference.

    Finally, Kyle’s widow Tara did not appear in the court as far as I know. The lawyers had made a motion to have the trial moved to Texas because she did not want to leave her children for what both sides thought would be a 10 day trial at most. Because an insurance company is paying her legal fees, ($500,000) the estate is on the hook for $1.3 million. I can’t help but think that as a practical matter Tara Kyle could not have found someone to watch her children for $130,000 a day. On the emotional side, I can’t help but think that her presence in the court would have added a face to the Kyle side of the story. Ventura was present in the court. The estate lawyers had a table to defend. Juries react in different ways to that type of thing.

Possible to defame him ? Oh, I dunno….

I think he already covered that base for himself.

AmericaBeautiful | July 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

I’m ashamed of him. This whole this was so unnecessary and now Kyle’s widow must pay Ventura all this money??? Why couldn’t Ventura’s public statements have been enough?
Really sad a bout this.
He should decline to take the money.

    Spiny Norman in reply to AmericaBeautiful. | July 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Decline it? Are you serious? He’s much more likely to demand much more, and more than just money.

    How is it unnecessary? Ventura was damaged, why should he not recover? Why should this widow have money that does not belong to her, that her husband gained unjustly?

      genes in reply to Milhouse. | July 30, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      How do you damage the rep of a loudmouthed 9/11 truther and all around nutcase?

        Milhouse in reply to genes. | July 31, 2014 at 3:04 am

        By claiming that he said more SEALs should be killed. That would be a despicable thing for him to say, and it was despicable of Kyle to pretend that he said it.

PersonFromPorlock | July 30, 2014 at 11:01 am

“An 8-2 jury awarded Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million under the theory of unjust enrichment, saying that a portion of Kyle’s profits from his book were gained at the expense of Ventura’s reputation.”

What sort of book makes that sort of money as “a portion” of its profits? I have no problem with Ventura’s being awarded the money if he was in fact slandered, but the amount seems kind of large.

“Irony” was apparently never covered in wrestling class. Congratulations, Ventura. Next you can sue yourself for proving you suck big time, both as a human being and also as an American.

Ventura does all his own heavy lifting when it comes to “harshing his rep”.

What little reputation he had has now been completely destroyed!

In the simplest terms, the most damage done to Ventura’s reputation has been inflected upon himself by himself. I could care less about the defamation of a complete clown but he has brought his petty opinions and outlandish statements to the forefront and we should all revel in the idea that everyone knows what an idiot he really is!

theduchessofkitty | July 30, 2014 at 11:59 am

Nothing to worry. He was just granted permission by a jury to devour a widow’s house…

Putzes – he and the jury.

Jesse seems to have forgotten what happened to O.J. after he killed two people, yet a jury with an agenda helped him walk scott-free…

I don’t suppose that the extent of the award could be diminished by an actual accounting of the books profits accruing to the author which had to have been far less than $1.8 million.

What the media didn’t choose to cover is how difficult it is for an attorney to prove that a defendant acted with actual malice against a public figure.

On the contrary, in a case like this, where the defendant claims to have personally witnessed the lies he published, proving actual malice is automatic. If the story didn’t happen, then Kyle must have known that it didn’t happen, he must have made it up himself, QED.

nothing that happened in that court room will ever take away from the fact that Chris Kyle was one of the bravest soldiers ever to make the ultimate sacrifice while assisting a brother in arms.

And now we also know that he was a damned liar, who maliciously invented a lie to destroy the reputation of someone he didn’t like, no doubt relying on his reputation, and on his victim’s public figure status, to protect him from justice. Brave he may have been, but he had no honour.

    genes in reply to Milhouse. | July 30, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Real brave to SLANDER a dead man.

      Milhouse in reply to genes. | July 31, 2014 at 3:06 am

      The dead man was the slanderer. That’s what this case was about. And now a jury has established the truth, that he was a slanderer, and deserves to be remembered as one.

Jesse “The Bully” Ventura wished to clear up his reputation with his “fellow” SEALs. From what I’ve seen his reputation among the SEALs has been cleared up. They believe Jesse “The Bully” Ventura to be a bully and Blue Falcon.
From what I have seen there is reason to believe Jesse “The Bully” Ventura was UDT and not a SEAL.

    Milhouse in reply to genes. | July 31, 2014 at 3:09 am

    The distinction between UDT and SEAL is no longer relevant. UDT no longer exist as a separate unit, the remaining UDTs were folded into the SEALs, so nowadays we speak of them all as SEALs. If you say UDT nobody knows what it means, until you explain that it means a predecessor to the SEALs, i.e. an early SEAL.

      OmegaPaladin in reply to Milhouse. | August 1, 2014 at 7:52 pm

      My great-uncle was a UDT in WWII. He wore a UDT cap with the same symbol as the SEALs, but he clarified the difference to me when I asked about it. UDTs were specialists trained in removing / emplacing underwater obstacles, without the training in commando land warfare or paratroop operations. Still brave, still very impressive, but not the same as SEa Air Land sailors. Similarly, A paratrooper is different from a PJ, despite the fact that both jump into hostile territory.

NC Mountain Girl | July 30, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Can Jesse Ventura be slandered or libeled? Yes, he can. The real question is what his reputation is worth these days. That is were I take issue with this decision.

I am reminded of the Victorian era libel suit the artist James Abbot Whistler brought against art critic John Ruskin. The testimony at that trial also conflicted and some witnesses refused to testify, but the jury did decide for Whistler. They also awarded him exactly one farthing in damages. That is less than a penny. Whistler had to declare bankruptcy, in part because of his legal bills.

The fact that Ventura didn’t have a (noticeable and remembered) mark on him the next morning means little. A knockout punch (to the jaw especially) may not leave a discernible bruise.

I spoke with a buddy who happened to be at a nearby bar that night (another one frequented by SEALs). And while he didn’t witness whatever happened, many people came from McP’s (the bar where the incident happened) talking about the incident. Kyle’s story is more likely.

I hope Ventura enjoyed that reunion. As he will absolutely get the shit kicked out of him if he ever shows his face at another.

    Milhouse in reply to Jay Jones. | July 31, 2014 at 3:12 am

    The jury considered all the evidence, and decided that the story wasn’t true. You have not considered all the evidence, or even most of it, so how can you think it likely that they were wrong?

BannedbytheGuardian | July 31, 2014 at 5:19 am

Snipers should never be,big mouths . It used to be their identities were heavily protected even within the army . A few years ago a seemingly ordinary old man died & at his funeral the military brass gave him a head up . Apparently he was the very famous sniper from the a Korean War that the enemy had given a him his own code.