Allan Dershowitz is so mad at CNN that he is suing the network for $300 million. The law professor turned media personality turned TV news channel regular thinks that the network somehow slandered him by misrepresenting his position during the impeachment of President Trump.
The suit seeks $50 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages. That really sounds like an absurd amount of money and it was probably chosen just to make headlines.
Mr. Dershowitz thinks that CNN was mean to him for exaggerating in some way his comments during the impeachment of President Trump. The plaintiff shocked many legal scholars for his defense of President Trump’s actions and for serving as a lawyer in defense of the President during his Senate impeachment trial.
But anyone who has followed Mr. Dershowitz’s career should not have been so surprised.
Mr. Dershowitz of all people knows how hard it is to win a libel or slander suit if you are in the public eye. And the United States is the toughest place in the world to win such a case if you are a public figure. First you must prove that the statements or writings about you were wrong. Then you have to prove that the publication, network or person who you are suing knew that they were wrong and then said it anyway. Finally you must also prove that there was malicious intent.
And even if you prove all three to a jury, you can only be awarded damages based on how much harm was actually done to your reputation. Juries have been known to rule in favor of the plaintiff, but award them as little as $1 in damages.
Many will likely call this a publicity stunt by an angry Dershowitz. The famed lawyer put himself in such a position when he set out to become a public figure forty years ago. Over the decades, Mr. Dershowitz has appeared just about everywhere on television news and talk shows, ready to debate just about anything. The one time civil liberties attorney hit an all-time low twenty years ago when he was mocked for running around Florida, begging for a client to represent during the 2000 elections recount there.
The lawsuit revolves specifically around the claim that CNN tried to make Mr. Dershowitz look bad by exaggerating his statement that if the President of the United States does something which he believes is for the good of the country then it is not illegal. The statement came in answer to a question from Senator Ted Cruz during the US Senate’ impeachment trial of President Trump.
Dershowitz tweeted, “I challenge anyone to watch my complete answer in the Senate and conclude that CNN was correct in saying that I believe that even if a president commits a criminal act that would not be impeachable. I said the opposite.”
As to the issue of a quid pro quo, Allan Dershowitz answered Senator Cruz’s question saying, “The only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the ‘quo’ were in some way illegal.”
“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest, and mostly you’re right–your election is in the public interest—and if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected—in the public interest—that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
Allan Dershowitz’s suit claims that CNN hammed up the last words from his answer in order to create, “a one-sided and false narrative that Professor Dershowitz believes and argued that as long as the President believes his reelection is in the public interest, that he could do anything at all – including illegal acts – and be immune from impeachment.”
I challenge anyone to watch my complete answer in the Senate and conclude that CNN was correct in saying that I believe that even if a president commits a criminal act that would not be impeachable. I said the opposite.https://t.co/8Ah8gecptL
— Alan Dershowitz (@AlanDersh) September 16, 2020
“The very notion of that was preposterous and foolish on its face, and that was the point: to falsely paint Professor Dershowitz as a constitutional scholar and intellectual who had lost his mind. With that branding, Professor Dershowitz’s sound and meritorious arguments would then be drowned under a sea of repeated lies.”
The suit also sarcastically states that, “However, Professor Dershowitz appears to have made one mistake. He chose to defend the President of the United States and defend the U.S. Constitution at moment in time where CNN has decided that doing so is not permitted. For this, CNN set out to punish him and destroy his credibility and reputation, and unfortunately, succeeded.”
Paul Begala mocked what he called the “Dershowitz Doctrine” in an opinion piece for CNN.com saying, “The Dershowitz Doctrine would make presidents immune from every criminal act, so long as they could plausibly claim they did it to boost their re-election effort. Campaign finance laws: out the window. Bribery statutes: gone. Extortion: no more. This is Donald Trump’s fondest figurative dream: to be able to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”
“Allow me to use a technical term, one that I’m pretty sure is in the Magna Carta: this is bonkers. It is ludicrous. Beyond that, it is frightening. The desire of politicians to win elections is overpowering, which is precisely why we need laws to rein them in.”
This is also cited in the suit. But it is hard to see how Mr. Dershowitz can make a claim for any damages for the way in which people reacted to his arguments. Nor is he really in a position to say that his reputation was harmed.