Court Dismisses Soldier’s Appeal over Fahrenheit 9/11

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled this week to dismiss the appeal (Fastcase users click for case) of Peter Damon, a former sergeant in the U.S. Army who had sued Michael Moore for libel after Moore used an interview that Damon gave to NBC in the anti-war documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Damon argued that the way in which Moore used the interview, in which Damon discussed his Iraq war injuries and treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center, portrayed him as against the war and critical of the Commander in Chief.

Typically, courts deciding libel suits must judge whether the statement in question could lead “a reasonable [viewer] to conclude that it conveyed a defamatory meaning.” But, Damon argued, as a pro-war veteran active in the armed forces community, the definition of a “reasonable viewer” must be adapted to his personal surroundings.

Nevertheless, the court said that in the context of how his interview was used:

“. . . there is no way for a reasonable viewer to construe Damon as supporting Moore’s ‘agenda.’ Neither may it be reasonably construed as a statement promoting disloyalty or denouncing either the Commander-in-Chief or the medical treatment received by veterans.”

Click for the WSJ Law Blog Story

If Damon gave the interview and Michael Moore had permission from NBC to use the footage, should Damon have a cause of action for what he perceives as distortion of his words? Does libel really cover this cause of action, or is another legal theory better suited to this case?

Feel free to post alternatives in the comments.

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