While listening to a “conservative” talk radio show recently, the host—who, along with other Iraq War devotees and, what amount to one and the same thing, “American Sniper” worshippers—brought up Jesse Ventura’s lawsuit against the estate of Chris Kyle. I was amazed at the dishonesty of his coverage.
Chris Kyle, “the American Sniper,” claimed in his book to have knocked out a man named “Scruff Face” who supposedly had badmouthed American soldiers fighting in Iraq. Interestingly, it wasn’t until he began promoting his book that Kyle identified this man as Jesse Ventura.
Ventura has always sworn that Kyle had blatantly lied about the whole incident: Ventura—a former Navy SEAL himself, let’s not forget—insisted that he never made the comments that Kyle imputed to him, and there was never any sort of physical confrontation between them. In fact, Ventura didn’t even know who Kyle was.
Ventura sued Kyle for defamation.
And he won.
Among the wild distortions of my radio host was the claim that the jury was “split.” Literally, that’s true. But if 80 percent—eight of ten—Americans agreed on any issue, no one would claim that they were “split” or “divided.” Everyone would chalk this up as one issue around which the nation was unified.
Well, 80 percent—eight of ten—jurors in Ventura’s defamation lawsuit sided with Ventura.
The significance of this can’t be overstated. Among those Constitutional scholars interviewed by The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, one remarked that Ventura’s case has proven to be “one of the most important First Amendment cases in recent Minnesota history.” The reasons for his judgment are not difficult to grasp.
First, because of First Amendment protections, victory in defamation and libel lawsuits are significantly hard to come by. To prove defamation, a plaintiff must establish that both the content of the defendant’s claims are false and that he knew that what he was saying was false. In other words, plaintiffs must prove that defendants acted with “actual malice.”
Second, since Ventura is a public figure, his hurdle was even tougher than that of most.
Yet he did it: The jury awarded Ventura a little over $1.8 million in damages.
Former Navy SEALS, including Terry “Mother” Moy, the owner of the bar at which this incident was supposed to have occurred, testified on behalf of Ventura’s account, swearing that it never happened.
As Ventura remarked, if this event had really occurred, then word of it would’ve “spread like wildfire” through the SEALS community. However, Ventura is actually guilty of understatement here: Given his high visibility as a public persona, to say nothing of the fact that he was in the town, Coronado, when this incident never occurred precisely in order to address a graduating class of Navy SEALS at the nearby Naval base, something like this, if it happened, would’ve become big news—and quickly.
As Thomas Sowell put it not too long ago, juries “deal in facts.” And the facts to which this jury had access were not in Chris Kyle’s favor.
But there’s another angle to all of this that neither the Kyle worshippers nor the Kyle critics are willing to consider.
Let’s suppose that Kyle did not lie, that every syllable he uttered about his alleged confrontation with Ventura was the God’s honest truth. This hardly reflects any better on him.
Think about it: According to the Kyle worshippers, Kyle was over in Iraq fighting for “our freedoms,” including and especially our sacred “freedom of speech.” This, after all, is the line that his defenders have used against the Michael Moores and Seth Rogens: Kyle fought over there so that they would have the freedom to express themselves here—even when, in doing so, they “trash talk” Kyle and his comrades-in-arms.
Yet Kyle didn’t respect Ventura’s right to freedom of speech. Rather, once the latter said something that he found offensive, Kyle committed aggravated assault against him.
And then he ran.
Aggravated assault is a crime that carries a prison term of years. If Ventura wanted to avenge himself against Kyle, he wouldn’t have sued him for defamation; he would’ve and could’ve pressed criminal charges against Kyle and then sued him for injuries. After all, won’t the Kyle-worshippers admit that this is just the kind of thing that a publicity hound like Ventura would do?
Nor would Ventura have to worry about keeping quiet to save face. And this brings us to another piece of unflattering commentary on Kyle if things happened as he said: Ventura could’ve taken comfort in knowing, and revealing to the world, that he, a veteran in his 50’s (at the time) was sucker punched by a guy 23 years his junior—and over a disagreement on an issue that conflicted the nation.
In any event, Kyle did lie, and he lied in order to profit.
Only blind Kyle-worship—or, to put it more accurately, blind neoconservative ideology—can prevent people from seeing this.