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Seeking Clarification: Is James Woods A Hypocritical Asshole?


Oh, James Woods. He has now "settled" the ridiculous lawsuit he filed against someone mocking him on Twitter... but is still fighting a fairly similar lawsuit that was filed against him -- complaining that it's an attack on his free speech rights.

If you don't recall, the rather opinionated actor sued a trollish Twitter user who went by the name Abe List, after Abe referred to Woods as a "cocaine addict" in a clearly hyperbolic tweet. As the case progressed, "Abe List" died unexpectedly, leading to Woods obnoxiously gloating on Twitter that List had "dropped" his anti-SLAPP appeal, and when people pointed out it was only because List had died, Woods demonstrated what kind of character he is by cheering on the fact that someone died.

Nice guy, huh?

And, of course, that leaves out that Woods had a history of tweeting similarly hyperbolic statements about others who he disagreed with:

So, Woods was already looking fairly hypocritical here, but as you'll see soon, that level of hypocrisy is becoming more pronounced.

Either way, after "List" died, you might think that Woods would just drop the case, but given his clear animosity (see tweet above) towards a guy making a silly statement on Twitter, he kept the case going in order to unmask the real identity of "List" and to potentially pursue the case against his estate. As first revealed by Eriq Gardner at THREsq, Woods has finally agreed to settle the case, but at least part of the terms of the settlement is that he got attorney Ken "Popehat" White (who you probably know if you're reading Techdirt, and who has represented us at times) to write a silly letter stating what basically everyone in the world already knew: specifically that when Abe List referred to Woods as a "cocaine addict" it wasn't meant to be taken literally:

From attorney Kenneth White, the letter states, "On behalf of my client — the defendant referred to as 'Abe List' in the lawsuit filed by James Woods — and my client's surviving family, I acknowledge that they are not aware of any facts to suggest that Mr. Woods has ever been a cocaine addict or used any other drugs."

Frankly, this feels more like an attempt to try to humiliate Ken (which, uh, generally isn't a good idea), but the end result just makes Woods look ridiculously and almost comically petty.

Oh, and back to the hypocrisy thing. Earlier this year, we also noted, with some amount of irony, that Woods was now on the receiving end of a very similar lawsuit. A woman, Portia Boulger, sued Woods for calling her a "Nazi" in a tweet that was actually a case of mistaken identity. As we pointed out, unlike some people, we can remain true to our principles, and we believe that Boulger's lawsuit against Woods is just as misguided and just as much as a SLAPP suit as Woods' lawsuit was against List.

Either way, in that case, Woods' lawyers filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings last month, which makes a bunch of statements that sound a little odd, considering they're on behalf of someone who was (at the time) still engaged in litigation against someone who jokingly called him a "cocaine addict" on Twitter.

This case is simply an unsuccessful attempt by Plaintiff to quell the free speech rights of Mr. Woods, a conservative actor. Indeed, Plaintiff's claims for defamation and false light/invasion of privacy both fail as a matter of law. First, Plaintiffs claim for defamation fails as a matter of law because Mr. Woods' allegedly defamatory question is not a statement of fact. Nor would a reasonable reader interpret Mr. Woods' question--seeking clarification--as inferring any factual content. Likewise, Plaintiff's false light/invasion of privacy claim fails as a matter of law because no misrepresentation regarding Plaintiff's character, history, activities or beliefs is present in Mr. Woods' tweets, much less a misrepresentation that would warrant a reasonable person, in Plaintiff's position, to take the serious offense required to succeed on a false light/invasion of privacy claim.

That's... an interesting way of saying what happened. As a reminder, here's how THResq described the tweet that Woods sent:

This all started in March 2016, after the Chicago Tribune posted a campaign rally photo of a woman who was wearing a Trump T-shirt and giving a Nazi salute — the well-known 'Heil Hitler' salute with her right hand raised straight up — and several Twitter users misidentified the woman in the picture as Boulger, according to the complaint. Woods tweeted the photo from his verified account and wrote, “So-called #Trump ‘Nazi’ is a #BernieSanders agitator/operative?”

So, yeah, his tweet was a "question" but a "reasonable person" would be unlikely to think that Woods was "seeking clarification." Rather most reasonable persons would likely believe that Woods was implying strongly that Boulger, a Bernie Sanders supporter, had gone to a Trump rally and pretended to be a Nazi supporter of Trump (which she had not).

But, really, it's the "reasonable person" line that's the kicker here. Because that same "reasonable person" looking at Abe List's tweets would similarly have been just as unlikely "to take serious offense" to that tweet. And, yes, there's something fairly ridiculous for Woods to be whining that someone is trying to "quell" his free speech (even if true) when he was doing something quite similar at the very same time.

Later in the motion, Woods' lawyers (properly) point out that "the general context of the statement" and the "broader context in which the statement appears" are a critical element in determining defamation -- which, again, seems silly given that same test, applied to the guy Woods' sued would likely have worked very much against Woods' defamation case.

Finally the truly amazing argument, given Woods' lawsuit against List. I'll just post the paragraph here:

Likewise, Mr. Woods' allegedly defamatory question appeared on his personal Twitter account, in the midst of a highly-contested and widely-covered presidential political campaign.... A personal social media account, such as an individual's Twitter account, cannot reasonably be interpreted as a forum for fact reporting.... Rather, such a context is akin to a forum or editorial section of a newspaper where a reader would expect to see statements of opinion.... Additionally, Twitter, a social media platform powered by individual user accounts, can be described even more so as a "well established genre of opinionated speech as it is commonly known the average Twitter user is not "normally engaged in the business of factual reporting or news dissemination."

What the actual fuck, James? I mean, I agree. That paragraph is 100% accurate. But it sure seems... massively hypocritical to make that argument while suing someone for their similarly silly tweet about you.

Either way, if you're going to go around suing people for trollish tweets, perhaps don't go around posting trollish tweets yourself. And, if you do and even continue to pursue them after their death, don't then argue in a different lawsuit a bunch of points that totally undermine your own lawsuit. I mean, unless you want to be called out as a raging hypocrite.


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