Wow. Brad and Angelina are mad about those divorce rumors that erupted in January and they are suing a British tabloid, News of the World, in London High Court for libel. The tabloid basically came out and said that the couple were “divorcing” and that they had arranged with a law firm (it could have been Trope and Trope the same guys that were allegedly supposed to be repping Elin Woods) to split their more than $300 million in assets and arrange for custody of their six kids.
Since then, Brad and Angelina have had a couple of high profile public appearances, including last Sunday when they appeared together in Miami for the superbowl with their son Maddox.
Hme…The thing with the News of the World article is that it was picked up by all the mainstream news outlets including ABC’s the View, Entertainment Tonight and even, I guess, some others. The New York Times, maybe? Can’t remember. But definitely Huffington Post.
The irony of the whole thing is, Brad and Angelina could have broken up and they could have gone to a lawyer to iron out the details and these public appearances could just be a stage and smoke screen to confuse the public and protect their privacy and that of their kids; and News of the World could have gotten a scoop from an insider at that very law firm that allegedly did the agreement between them – and I am obviously not privy to which law firm that is; some reports say Trope but Trope has said they did no such agreement for the couple.
But the issue is that they wanted their privacy. They did not want everybody knowing about it. And if it was true, they certainly didn’t want News of the World splattering their business all over the international press. This is what this is about, I suspect. Not so much that the rumours are false (they may or may not be) but they feel they have a right to their privacy and they feel their privacy was invaded and they have the power and the means and so they are going to sue the living bejesus out of the people who blew the whistle.
Or maybe they are really still together. We’ll never know the truth now. How can News of the World defend itself? Well, they have to prove that what they said was true. Truth is a defense to libel. I am assuming that they will be able to do that. Which ever law firm handled the deal (some reports say it’s Trope but who really knows?) then News of the World is going to have to prove that a whistle blower from the law firm told them this and they are going to have to provide a copy of this so called “agreement” in order to get out of this libel suit.
But then again, is it necessarily libelous to say that a celebrity unmarried couple had broken up? What, again, is the definition of libel? Hang on a second…..ok. Blacks Law Dictionary on libel:
A method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, or signs. In its most general sense, any publication that is injurious to the reputation of another. A false and unprivileged publication in writing of defamatory material. Bright v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist., 51 Cal. App.3d 852, 124 Cal. Rptr. 598, 604. A maliciously written or printed publication which tends to blacken a person’s reputation or to expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or to injure him in his business or profession. Corabi v. Curtis Pub. Co., 441 Pa. 432, 273 A.2d 899, 904.
Okay. So where are we now with this “divorce” rumor in News of the World in the context of “libel?” Well, look, I am not a Tort lawyer by any means, but I would argue that the standard for libel has not been met here. Nobody can seriously argue that News of the World “defamed” Brad and Angelina such that their profession was “injured” or such that they were exposed to “public hatred, contempt or ridicule” for saying they broke up. I mean, what is “defamation?” Hang on. Let’s look at Black’s Law Dictionary again:
What is defamation? Defamation is:
An intentional false communication, either published or publicly spoken, that injures another’s reputation or good name. Holding up of a person to ridicule, scorn or contempt in a respectable and considerable part of the community; may be criminal as well as civil. Included both libel and slander.
Defamation is that which tends to injure reputation; to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which the plaintiff is held, or to excite adverse, derogatory or unpleasant feelings or opinions against him. Statement which exposes person to contempt, hatred, ridicule or obloquy.
To recover against a public official or a public figure, plaintiff must prove the defamatory statement as published with malice.
Okay. I could go on with this but I won’t. Suffice to say that if I had to defend News of the World in this case (and no offense to Brad and Angelina) I would argue that first of all, saying that a celebrity couple broke up is hardly tantamount to exposing such public figure to “contempt, hatred, or ridicule.” Celebrities break up all the time. It comes with the relationship sort of the way the herniated disc comes with the car in a personal injury case. Are they kidding me? Who, in “respectable society”, would care if someone said somebody like Brad and Angelina is getting divorced, or that they broke up? How is saying that a public figure like Brangelina broke up “defamatory”? That is almost to suggest that Brad and Angelina are above breaking up or above getting “divorced.” Obviously, that is illogical and ridiculous. Nobody holds them to that esteem. No one. They are not special in that sense. I’m sorry but they are not. Rather, they are like any other celebrity, and any other person in society on this score and people get divorced. This is just reality. People break up. This is just reality. Besides, they both have been divorced before and it did not impact their professions. If anything, it made them more rich and famous! Hello?!
Plus, there is that whole element of “malice” that I think will be hard to prove. I don’t think any reasonable person would be able to prove that saying Brad and Angelina broke up was “malicious.” Even if it was false, it was not malicious. People break up all the time! I mean, I can see if they said that they broke up because Brad was having an affair with, say, what is that guy’s name…in Italy?….um….up for an Oscar?….rat’s can’t remember. But maybe that would be malicious because obviously it is not true and it could ruin his reputation as a heterosexual male, to say that without proof. Even though, I should point out, that here in New York (and maybe in other jurisdictions) saying someone had a homosexual affair is increasingly not being held as libelous or malicious. So even then, it would be a high mountain for Brad and Angelina….
Brad and Angelina are public figures. You understand that? PUBLIC FIGURES. So they have an even higher burden of proof, and in this instance, I just don’t think they will be able to prove this case. But I could be wrong. God knows I’ve been wrong before….
Not to digress, but didn’t Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere sue a paper for a similar issue not long before they did in fact divorce? (Don’t quote me on that but I seem to recall something with them.) This lawsuit by Brad and Angelina gives me pause. It makes me wonder if there isn’t smoke to the News of the World fire. Nonetheless, I still believe that whatever the truth is, it was not libel to write an article that they broke up/”divorced”. Not by the definition of libel per Black’s Law Dictionary.