Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review May 4, 2004 / 13 Iyar, 5764

Jonathan Turley

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

A Peddler of Court Gossip May Pay the Piper | Last week, a New York federal judge refused to dismiss a defamation case that reads like a mix of Dr. Ruth and Dr. Seuss. At its heart is a controversy over what a procurer of prostitutes in Dubai told a "horse whisperer" in Germany who told a gossipmonger in New York who told millions of Americans about former Congress member Gary Condit. Though this might sound like a game of post office for pundits, the stakes are high — for commentators, the Constitution and for Condit.

The former Central Valley representative has not been idle since he faded from public view after the scandal involving the disappearance and death of his onetime intern, Chandra Levy. He was hounded as a murder suspect during the Levy investigation once his "close relationship" with her became public. Now he and his wife have sued various media organizations, alleging defamation. Some have reportedly settled. However, the most interesting case is the one Condit filed against Dominick Dunne, Vanity Fair correspondent, talk show "legal expert" and host of Court TV's "Power, Privilege and Justice." The judge's decision that Condit's suit merited a trial converted Dunne from a seller of court gossip to its subject.

On shows like "Larry King Live," Dunne is famous for combining breathless celebrity gossip with breast-beating condemnations of anyone suspected of a crime. When Levy went missing, Dunne went after Condit with vicious abandon.

Donate to JWR

After roughly seven months of nonstop commentary with little factual content, Dunne dropped a bombshell. He proclaimed that he had a source suggesting that at sex parties at Middle Eastern embassies, Condit griped that Levy was a "clinger" who "threatened to go public." Dunne explained that Levy might have been kidnapped by Condit's sex-fiend friends, loaded onto an airplane on a stretcher and "dropped at sea."

Dunne revealed that his source was a self-described "horse whisperer" who heard it from "an Arab man" in Dubai who claimed to be a procurer of women for the embassy parties.

All of this and more is contained in court papers. The horse whisperer is identified by Condit's lawyers as Monty Roberts, a man with "a long and notorious history of lying." In commentaries, Dunne mentioned that he could not vouch for the facts, but he also endorsed the horse whisperer as a "respectable individual" and someone known the "world over." In a radio interview with Laura Ingraham, both Ingraham and Dunne stated that the horse whisperer's account made "beautiful sense."

When Dunne was not peddling the horse whisperer's tale, he was offering an alternative: "Gary Condit rides with Hells Angels," and the reason Levy disappeared was "that she'd gotten on the back of a motorcycle" and someone doing a favor for Condit had spirited her away. When Dunne was interviewed for an Entertainment Tonight Online article, he pushed the Hells Angel theory. Dunne "could not reveal any more information," wrote the reporter, "but noted that he's working with authorities in Washington, D.C."

In response to Condit's lawsuit, however, Dunne is portraying himself as being far different from the image he cultivates as an international crime buster. In the court filings, he calls his commentary "musings," "idle chatter" and "small talk." His appearances on programs like "The Laura Ingraham Show," he insists, actually diminished the likelihood that people would take his statements as fact.

The judge didn't buy the no-one-takes-me-seriously defense. He decided Dunne must answer for his comments in a trial, a notable decision given the high burden imposed on a public official, such as Condit was, in a defamation case. To protect free speech, the Supreme Court has prevented public officials from using the defamation standard that applies to average citizens. Condit must show that Dunne acted with either actual malice or reckless disregard of the falsity of his statements. The standard is so high that the last time a national politician prevailed in a defamation suit was 1969 (Barry Goldwater, in a case of malicious reporting).

Court papers state that Dunne admitted in print that he "felt like creating some trouble" for Condit in his commentaries. Even if that doesn't prove actual malice, the judge clearly believed that passing along what a horse whisperer was allegedly told by a procurer in Dubai forms a basis for showing reckless disregard of the truth.

The mere fact that Dunne may face a trial (absent a settlement) is an important step in cleaning up the talk-show scene. Dunne and other commentators plainly believed that, as a public official, Condit was fair game for unfair attacks. A trial for Dunne would serve as a warning that the law may not require decency or even total accuracy but it does demand accountability.

Ultimately, Dunne may achieve the one thing that seemed most unlikely in his career: a positive contribution to the law or media. The race to the bottom that he has helped to lead will temporarily be postponed due to inclement legal conditions.

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributorJonathan Turley is a professor of law at George Washington Law School. Click here to visit his website. Comment by clicking here.

04/01/04: One angry Tyco juror does not make twelve angry men
03/23/04: When ‘choice’ becomes tyranny
03/18/04: Valued bond between client, lawyer eroding
03/12/04: When Silence Isn't Golden: Martha Stewart's failure to testify holds a lesson for other celebrity defendants
03/09/04: Non-profits' executives avoid scrutiny, valid reforms
02/12/04: Reparations cause is coming up empty: Potential lawsuits destined to remain meritless in courts
02/03/04: Senate powder is the least of Congress' security concerns
01/29/04: Case of the Missing Evidence: Facts are often withheld from juries, which can lead to ill-informed verdicts
12/31/03: Celebrity is often its own best defense
12/27/03: U.S. soldiers lack best protective gear
12/17/03: Going for the gold in a competition of the corrupt
11/25/03: Will Malvo jurors spare life of young suspect?
11/11/03: The Black Tax: Of charlatans, crooks and victims and the reparations scam
11/04/03: Sniper case lacks appeal, public lessons of other cases
10/02/03: Is a soldier's life worth more than $650?
08/26/03: One justice wields too much power on today's Supreme Court. It's time to make the top bench much bigger
08/11/03: Don't let jobs grow on family trees
06/26/03: A Ruling That Only Goldilocks Could Love; We still don't know how much weight to give race in college admissions
06/24/03: 'Educating' Congress at the hands of lobbyists
06/12/03: Crooked arm of the law
06/10/03: Defense on lay-away
05/23/03: Innocence doesn't pay, either
05/15/03: A see-no-evil parole system
05/08/03: An American Gulag?
05/01/03: CUNY Law gives grads a cynical parting gift
04/22/03: Congress Must Send Spammers a Message
04/16/03: End Apartheid in the State Prisons
04/07/03: NBC's sacking of Peter Arnett over a critical analysis plays well in Baghdad
03/07/03: Rights on the Rack: Alleged torture in terror war imperils U.S. standards of humanity
02/25/03: How democracy could clear our snowy streets
02/11/03: Sanity and Justice Slipping Away
01/28/03: Quit horsing around, senator
01/14/03: Public Payroll: a Family Affair; Nepotism in Washington poses a threat to institutional integrity
01/09/03: DARPA and democracy
12/24/02: The 13th juror
12/19/02: Back to the admissions morass
12/10/02: Pro-Choice at Expense of Free Speech; NOW case against abortion protester may backfire
12/02/02: A cruel bait and switch for vets
11/15/02: Junk justice
11/07/02: OUR second-class soldiers
10/30/02: 'Quirin' revisited: The dark history of a military tribunal
10/22/02: Un-American Arrests: Mass detainments of the innocent may be the ultimate form of crowd control, but the tactic is unconstitutional
10/16/02: Reverse pawn shops? Broke state officials across the country have been looking for businesses to buy their assets at a fraction of their worth to pay for budget shortfalls
10/08/02: A legal tattoo hullabaloo
10/02/02: Gagged justice sets dangerous precedent
09/25/02: The Great Salmon Rose Caper
09/17/02: Reparations: A Scam Cloaked in Racial Pain
09/12/02: This country's hidden strength
09/04/02: 1st Amendment protects even the ugliest among us
08/28/02: A secret court goes public
08/20/02: I defended Ashcroft during his nomination; he's become a constitutional menace
08/07/02: San Francisco embracing states-rights
07/31/02: Who needs Jenny Craig when you can have Johnnie Cochran?
07/22/02: The meaning of justice and the madness of Zacarias Moussauoi
07/16/02: The President vs. the Presidency
07/08/02: How one woman's whims dictates the rights of millions
07/02/02: Just say 'no' to extracurricular activities
06/24/02: Missing Ted Bundy
06/10/02: A comedy of eros06/14/02: 05/31/02: Beyond the 'reformed FBI' hype
05/23/02: Do we really need a Federal Marriage Amendment?
05/19/02: No "battlefield detainee" should leave home without a U.S. birth certificate
05/10/02: The perfect constitutional storm
04/26/02: 'Slave of Allah' wounds justice
04/12/02: The importance of being nameless
04/05/02: The adjusted value of justice
03/18/02: How Clinton got off: A law professor's take
03/11/02: Profiling and the terrorist lottery
03/05/02: Yes, Sharpton, there was a failure of justice
02/28/02: The Lay of the land
02/14/02: Living in constitutional denial
02/05/02: Legal Lesson for Afghanistan: War's Not a Slip-and-Fall Case
01/25/02: Sever "Jihad Johnny"'s ties to his homeland
01/21/02: "Out of sight, out of mind," but they're still prisoners
01/14/02: Your papers, please!
01/07/02: Prescription for disaster
12/18/01: Madison and the Mujahedeen
12/07/01: In the U.S., espionage crime is easy to understand but difficult to prove
11/19/01: What type of 'creature' would defend bin Laden?
11/19/01: Could bin Laden be acquitted in a trial?
10/28/01: The ultimate sign of the different times in which we are living
10/25/01: Al-Qaida produces killers, not thinkers
09/28/01: The Boxer rebellion and the war against terrorism
08/31/01: Bring back the silent Condit
08/27/01: Working out the body politic

© 2003, Jonathan Turley