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Inside the Beltway

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

SHERROD VS BREITBART

The national discourse on race continues to barrel forward a week after Andrew Breitbart brought global attention to video footage of former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod appearing to make a racist remark at an NAACP event. Now for part two — the legal implications. Will Mrs. Sherrod sue Mr. Breitbart? The dynamics are as complex as the story itself.

"Defamation cases for public officials like Ms. Sherrod are tough. At the end of the day, she will have to prove that what Mr. Breitbart published was false," litigation lawyer Mitchell Langberg tells Inside the Beltway.

Mr. Langberg works at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck — a Los Angeles legal firm specializing in First Amendment, defamation and entertainment law that has "successfully" represented Martha Stuart, Kevin Costner, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Rodney Dangerfield, Berry Gordy and Carol Burnett.

"My colleagues and I have handled many of these kinds of cases. In our experience, if it was false and if Breitbart knew it was false or had serious doubt about its truth, he could find himself on the losing side of a very substantial jury verdict in the next 18 months or so," Mr. Langberg continues.

"You simply cannot take a small part of somebody's statements out of context and broadcast them to the world in a manner that conveys a false message about their character. As a result of all of this, Sherrod lost her job, was branded a racist and has had her reputation tarnished in ways that she can never know. If she can prove her case, I would not be surprised to see a seven-figure jury verdict."

Wait, there's more about the potential case of Sherrod vs. Breitbart.

"If she ends up suing this blogger, she's going to have a tough time in court," says Dallas attorney Clint David. "First, it could be argued that she's a public figure. Second, this blogger rebroadcast statements made in a public meeting. Third, the court is going to want to see malice or a reckless disregard for the truth. Can she prove that this was done with the intent to defame her?"

FOR THE LEXICON

A new phrase has emerged in the Shirley Sherrod "videogate" aftermath to compete with "mainstream media" and "lame stream media." And that would be the "blame stream media," just coined by Townhall.com columnist Doug Giles.

BAG ALERT

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently asked me if I would design a limited edition tote bag. With everything Speaker Pelosi has done to move our country forward, I was more than happy to oblige," exclaims designer Diane von Furstenburg, who has produced a patriotically colored "Team Pelosi" bag priced at $65, with all funds donated to House Democrats.

"I guess the Democrats couldn't handle not being the 'tea bag' party, so they decided to be the 'tote bag' party instead," observes Beltway reader Scott E. Hutch, who brought the fundraiser to our attention.

"A tote bag. How very 'NPR' of them. And the best part is, they apparently don't get the double entendre of 'limited edition' in this case. Ahem, you mean, perhaps, as in 'term limited,' Madam Speaker?" Mr. Hutch asks.

ON THE RADAR

Interesting. Atypical, perhaps. Just as talk gets louder that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could turn up as a 2012 presidential hopeful, Mr. Bush appears Monday in Louisville, Ky., for a fundraising event for Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul. Like we said, interesting.

JUST IN TIME

A multimillion-dollar grant to study — wait, what? Wake Forest University has received close to $4 million for the Character Project, an exploration of the "nature of character." The grant from the John Templeton Foundation is the largest the campus has ever received for humanities research.

Among key questions, says principle researcher Christian Miller: "Do character traits such as honesty, courage or compassion really exist? How should we go about improving our characters and overcoming character flaws? Should thinking about human and divine character be central to theological ethics?"

JUNIOR RANGER

Well, at least somebody's got out of town this week.

"On Monday, the Vice President will visit Yellowstone National Park where Recovery Act projects are generating economic activity and preserving the life of the park. The Vice President will deliver remarks to workers outside the Madison Junior Ranger Station, joined by director of the National Park Service Jonathan Jarvis."

— from a White House dispatch.

PATRIOT'S SUPERMAN

Wonder Woman's traditional star-spangled uniform recently was replaced by a gritty "street fighter" ensemble by DC Comics, to the dismay of many fans. Other superheroes have also received costume makeovers with a more global sartorial stamp as well. But Superman?

Not to worry, at least on CW's "Smallville." For the fall season, the network has replaced actor Tom Welling's edgy black and silver uniform with a "new, traditional blue-and-red Superman suit," as in days of yore. Producer and writer Kelly Souders says the actor will be wearing a suit modeled after the version found in the 2006 "Superman Returns" movie.

POLL DU JOUR

• 62 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the Obama administration is handling the federal deficit.

• 59 percent disapprove of the way the administration handles illegal immigration.

• 57 percent disapprove of the way it handles the economy.

• 54 percent disapprove of the way it handles health care policy.

• 53 percent disapprove of the way it handles the Gulf oil spill.

• 51 percent disapprove of the way it handles the situation in Afghanistan.

• 49 percent disapprove of the way it handles the situation in Iraq.

Source: A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll of 1,018 adults conducted July 16-21.

Querulous comments, facts and fiction to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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