Is it libel?

Posted on 18. Dec, 2009 by in Arts and Culture, politics, Rebecca Leung

FOX News personality Bill O’Reilly believes Law & Order was out of order last week when a recent script for the show grouped him with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in an unflattering way.

A character on the Dec. 9 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit called the three popular commentators “a cancer spreading ignorance and hate” for their views on undocumented immigrants.

O’Reilly wasn’t just offended; he said the statement was defamatory. Then he called the show’s creator, Dick Wolf, “a despicable human being”, “a coward”, and “a liar”. He also characterized the show as “propaganda.”

Certainly, laypeople often throw around the term “defamation” in non-legal contexts. But O’Reilly, because of his fame and the nature of his job, should be well versed in the conditions for libel and know that this situation doesn’t fit the bill.

First, it’s doubtful that a sentence in an episode of Law & Order is enough to damage O’Reilly’s reputation with any significant portion of the population. This kind of statement will only resonate with people who already disagree with his politics.

Second, it can be argued easily that the Law & Order comment was an opinion, not a fact, and opinions generally cannot be libelous. Though O’Reilly tries to discredit the comment by showing clips when he defends illegal immigrants, an opinion simply can’t be disproven.

Finally, O’Reilly is clearly a public figure and so most defamation claims are going to be difficult to sustain in court.

But what is most absurd about O’Reilly’s defamation claim is that he follows it up with equally offensive rhetoric against the show and its producer. Calling someone “a despicable human being” is tantamount to calling him “a cancer.”

If O’Reilly did have a legal leg to stand on in this situation, Wolf now has an equally solid counterclaim.

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One Response to “Is it libel?”

  1. vitamins for hairloss

    09. Sep, 2010

    The fact that O’Reilly is famous for his outspoken and often extremely offensive opinions means this is a case of live by the sword…