All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday, rejoice.

As we start the mailbag here, I know there are quite a few Fox Sports people — and people in sports media — who read the mailbag on a regular basis and I want to start off by wishing John Entz, the former president of Fox Sports’s event based productions — the guy who was in charge of putting the World Series, the Super Bowl, the U.S. Open, the World Cup, all the major events you watch on Fox on the air — well as he leaves Fox and heads off to a new job.

He’s been absolutely fantastic at what he does and he’s been a great friend to me over the past five or so years as I’ve worked for or done work for Fox Sports. I don’t know anyone who has worked in Fox events, either on air or off air, who doesn’t like and respect him a great deal.

He’s just a good dude.

I think it’s often the case that the guys who aren’t in front of the camera, regardless of their job titles, don’t get the attention or respect they deserve for the work they’re doing so I want to wish him well on his next job and congratulate whoever hires him for his next job in advance.

With that said, let’s dive into the mailbag:

John writes:

“I’m quoting from a media report: “The family of 16-year-old Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann has hired a high-powered lawyer who specializes in going after media organizations for libel and slander.”

In your opinion, will his family win this lawsuit? 

What are the consequences for those who attacked him online?

Will this cause people to slow down before they use social media to attack people and make quick assumptions?”

I got a ton of questions about Covington Catholic in the mailbag this week, but this one, to me, is the most interesting.

What sort of legal liabilities could people who posted about this student on Twitter face for their commentary given that it has now been proven to be untrue?

The easy answer is no one knows for sure.

That’s because our court precedents haven’t kept pace with the rapidity of our social media and Internet eras. It used to be that the average person was only mentioned in the newspaper on the day he was born and the day he died. Now that’s changed, anyone can become a viral video star in an instant. Sometimes those are voluntary — Chewbacca mom posted her video and the Charlie Bit My Finger kid’s family posted their videos — and other times, like here, they are completely involuntary.

The prevalence of cameras in our society today means almost everything in public is recorded somewhere. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of this entire imbroglio has been the emergence of multiple different videos, one which condemned and one which exonerated these kids.

I think the person who is probably the most liable in this entire case is the person who initially cut the video down and shared it. That person was clearly acting with malice and intended to attack these kids and turn them into social pariahs. But that person also had to know, at least when they were editing the video, that what he or she was sharing wasn’t representative of the actual event surrounding these students.

So I think that person or persons may well face serious civil liability and I hope we uncover who they were.

Now back to the big legal questions raised by this video and whether there could be any recovery for defamation related claims.

The first legal question that has to be answered is this: is this kid a public or private figure? (And are the other kids also included in the video). In other words, does standing in public on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and being filmed on video make you a public figure such that many of the comments made about you are fair game under the first amendment? Or are you a private figure? The distinction here is massive. If you’re a private figure you only have to prove negligence in a defamation case if you’re a public figure you have to prove a reckless disregard for the truth.

I suspect this case would boil down to that argument.

If he’s a public figure, as much as we may feel this treatment was unfair, I think recovering damages for defamation would be difficult. But if he’s a private figure then I think liability could be at issue for many of these media companies and the celebrities who bashed this kid on social media.

I can make the argument either way here — you can argue that this kid (and his friends) were engaged in political speech — he was marching in a pro-life event and wearing a political hat on the steps of one of our nation’s most prominent national monuments where political arguments have been made for generations, which is a clear indication he wanted to make a political statement. This would militate in favor of his being considered a public figure.

But you can also argue that he was a private figure because he’s a minor — being under 18 here could factor in too — who happened to be standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he was suddenly accosted by political actors, who attacked him for no reason, using his image in a selectively edited video to advance their own political causes, which resulted in negligent and harmful defamation to his person and reputation.

I think this is a really hard case, honestly. Because, again, our legal precedents haven’t been crafted to deal with present day technology and media culture.

I would like for news organizations — and celebrities with large followings — to be held accountable for what they inaccurately reported about this kid and his classmates and I don’t like the idea that every person who is in public becoming a public figure in the event they become part of a viral video filmed by someone else that they never consented to appear in, but I also think this is a tough case to litigate and provide guidelines going forward because I worry we could end up crafting an exception that devours a substantial portion of first amendment law.

Honestly, this is the kind of case I’d enjoy following and consulting on because I think it raises so many important and complex questions about the future of our country.

Here’s the lesson that I took from this case: I set down my two oldest boys and said, “Assume that every single thing you do in public is going to be filmed by someone. And also assume that any video you or your friends make on any subject is eventually going to be seen by your mom and dad so only make videos you’d be comfortable with everyone, including your parents, seeing.”

I think this is the standard modern parents have to set with their kids.

I’m 39 now, but can you imagine the most ridiculous, offensive or uncouth things you or your friends did or said when you were 15 or 16 years old being filmed and suddenly going viral? Especially if that tape had been edited to make you look as awful as possible.

I think that strikes every parent as being fundamentally wrong. That is, it’s not productive or healthy for our society to live in an era when everyone is held prisoner by the worst thing they did as minors and stands poised to have their lives wrecked if that ever goes public.

But I feel like that’s where we are.

And, amazingly, it’s the exact opposite of the policy we put in place for minors accused of actual crimes.

I don’t worry about that happening for me because my life is pretty much public already, but I do worry about it for my kids. I don’t even think about the kids in these videos as much now, honestly, as I do their parents. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to have your kid caught up in one of these stories, especially if it’s untrue.

When I watched that video, honestly, what I thought was, this is our new reality, anyone’s kid can go viral in an instant and turn into the biggest target in the country . Worst of all, he or she doesn’t have to do anything wrong at all for it to happen.

I think most of you reading this right now would agree that what happened to this kid was wrong. And while I hope that it’s a lesson, unless someone really gets hit with substantial financial liability to deter this kind of behavior, I think it will keep happening again and again.

Final thought, what does it say about our modern day culture when many adults fondest wish was for these kids to have been racist and awful human beings? Why does rooting for people, especially kids, to be awful make so many people in this country feel better about themselves? We’ve moved from an era when we hoped our kids would be better than their parents to an era when many adults hope that American teenagers are vile, abhorrent figures because it makes adults happy.

Something is rotten in our culture when that’s become the case.

Final, final thought, the media can’t escape blame here. The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, they want to argue they are the adults in the room, but their behavior here was indefensible. Their reporters wanted these kids to be awful because the media members covering this story hate Donald Trump. In hating Trump, the media has become a distorted oppositional figure to him. They aren’t elevating the national discourse, they’re sinking into the muck.

So let me ask them a question, if this had been a collection of black kids in Obama hats would this have ever been a story they covered? And if they had covered it, if instead of black religious members screaming racial slurs at white kids if there had been white members of a religion screaming racial slurs at black kids and then a drummer had approached a black teenager and gotten in his face with the drum, wouldn’t they have immediately argued the black high school kids were victims here?

I think you know this answer, of course they would have.

The media’s job, in my opinion, is to cover everyone equally, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. That’s not happening right now.

Here, these major media companies — and their reporters — all wanted these high school kids to be vile, racist human beings. Their hope that this was the case governed the way they covered this story from the moment it began.

This was, put simply, a shameful moment for our country’s national media.

Patrick writes:

 “Is Dee Ford the Bill Buckner of Kansas City now or is that a stretch?”

I think that’s totally fair.

Honestly, Dee Ford is lucky there was so much controversy in the Rams-Saints game over the blown call otherwise him lining up offsides would be THE story from the title games. I mean, all he had to do was line up onsides on that play. That’s it! And he couldn’t even manage that.

As is, many people haven’t realized that if he’d simply lined up onsides on that play the Chiefs would be in the Super Bowl and we’d be talking about whether Brady and Belichick were finished as a dynasty. Instead Brady’s third interception of the day got taken off the board and the Pats are going for a sixth Super Bowl with Brady and Belichick.

It really is remarkable, honestly.

Not to mention it cost the Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton the chance to retire as a Super Bowl champion. Instead, he gets fired and the Chiefs have to hope that Patrick Mahomes stays healthy and they get another chance to advance to the Super Bowl again.

Remember, it’s hard to get to title games and Super Bowls.

It just is.

Notwithstanding what Brady and Belichick did, what if Mahomes turns into another Dan Marino, a guy who had a chance to win the Super Bowl in his second year in the league — goes on to a hall of fame career — and just never has things break well for him again?

That would be awful, but it wouldn’t be without NFL precedent.

Blake writes:

“My mother-in-law’s Christmas gift this year was/is to take the family to Disney World. This includes my wife and our 3 kids, my wife’s sister and her husband, and my wife’s parents. So 9 people total and she is doing it all first class.

I’m sure this is costing her a small fortune and I am very grateful for it.

She wants the entire family to wear matching shirts for one of the five days we spend at the parks. Do I need to suck it up and just go along with it since she’s the one footing the majority of the bill on this trip? I mean, she is saving me a lot of money for a trip we’d be taking in some form in the next few years anyway.

It’s hard to stomach cruising the park 9 deep in identical Disney themed shirts along with the inevitable social media postings that go along with it. My father-in-law is 85 and MIL is 58, MIL runs the show there. My wife’s sister was just married 6 months ago so I’m not sure my BIL is comfortable taking a stand with me on this (we aren’t close yet, he’s about 10 years younger – I’m 37, lives 4 hours away, and has only been with my SIL maybe 2 years total).

My MIL is very excited about matching shirt day and has enlisted my wife to pick out the shirts. My wife is sympathetic to my position but would rather just go along with her excited mother rather than tell her how ridiculous this is. So it’s just me. I have not publicly declared any thoughts on this subject yet. Am I being an ungrateful jerk for thinking this way? It’s not like I’m going to make a scene over it and it’s certainly not worth risking any relationships with my in-laws. I just can’t wrap my head around it. Help me, please.”

I’m more intrigued by your father-in-law having a wife who is nearly thirty years younger than him, honestly.

That’s pretty wild.

It would be like my second wife being 12 years old right now.

Yikes.

Anyway, I think you wear the shirt. The fact that there are nine of you is obnoxious, but no dad has ever looked cool at Disney World anyway.

You’re there 100% for your kids and they will probably think it’s awesome that you’re wearing a matching shirt.

Plus, do you really want to fight this fight? If the other eight wear the shirts and you refuse to do it, I think you actually stand out even more than everyone else.

Having said all this, I would totally hate wearing a matching shirt too.

My wife made us wear matching shirts for the family Christmas card this year and I didn’t want to do that either so you have my sympathy.

Brad writes:

“You mentioned that the official who missed the Saints/Rams pass interference call needed to be fired for such an egregious mistake at their job, and that you had never made a comparable error in your job. That got me wondering, what would the equivalent be in your job to missing a PI call that changes who goes to the Super Bowl? 

Or what would the equivalent be for other jobs? Lawyer? Doctor? Pastor? Teacher?”
For my job it would probably be a string of curse words on the air for radio or TV.
It wouldn’t be one curse word because lots of people have done one curse word and kept their jobs, it would have to be a series of them that was so egregious no one could look away.
For a doctor I think it would be amputating the wrong leg, for a pastor it would be sleeping with the head deacon’s wife on video and accidentally emailing it to the congregation when he meant to attach the prayer list, for a teacher it would be probably be accidentally locking a kid in the classroom during lunch or recess while the kid was in the bathroom, and for a lawyer it would be filing a motion arguing the wrong side of a brief.
These are just my ideas, but needless to say this was about as bad as it could get for an official.
Kyle writes:
“I always thought bidets and wet wipes were “lame” but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized they are both amazing. It seems that most international places I have traveled, e.g. Italy, UK, Japan and Australia all utilize at least one of these options. Yet, here we are in the USA just wiping our asses with dry toilet paper and just being like, “yup, seems clean to me…” Honestly, the more I think about it the more disgusted I am. For example, if you step in dog shit, you don’t just wipe it off with a dry paper towel – you use water or a cleaner of some sort.  
What say you? When will the USA pride itself on having clean assholes?”
I think bidets should be standard in all American homes.
It might be the only thing Europe does better than us.
Having to look at toilet paper to see if your ass is clean is barbaric.
Sidenote: my four year old walks out of the bathroom every time he poos, bends over completely with his ass facing us spreads his ass cheeks apart and says, “Any poo left?” while he looks at us upside down from between his legs.
He’s been doing this since we told him he needed to start wiping his butt on his own.
You know what would solve this? A bidet or moist bathroom wipes.
Boom, he’d be clean as a whistle.
Andrew writes:
“What do you think it will take to end the government shutdown? With FAA having unprecedented call outs, I believe that an interruption to the transportation will be the catalyst to get any deal (even temporary) over the line.”
I wrote this solution last Friday — I think Trump will eventually have to declare a national emergency and then the courts will decide whether or not he can appropriate the funding for the wall.
Since the courts will take forever to rule I suspect this will continue to be an issue in the 2020 election which is, I think, something Trump wants because he can blame the Democrats for not being willing to work with him to build the wall and protect border security.
Honestly, the best thing that could happen for Trump — which would also be the worst thing that could happen for our country — would be if a group of terrorists entered the country from the southern border and launched an attack  as a result.
Again, as I noted above, I think it speaks poorly for our current national discourse that anyone can score political points if something awful happens to us. But that’s where we are, with both sides hoping for the worst from their opponents just to prove they are right.
Here’s an interesting question for you guys that I don’t know the answer to — how would social media have responded to 9/11?
In 2001 the attacks were a galvanizing wake up call that turned our anger external instead of internal. George W. Bush’s approval ratings soared to over 90%, it’s the last time I really remember our nation having an overwhelming sense of national unity.
Would we still have that same unity today? Or would a terrorist attack immediately turn into an internal squabble with everyone arguing over who was to blame? Would Trump be capable of rallying the nation or would he be immediately blamed for provoking the attack with his immigration policies?
In general our nation has been navel-gazing for most of the past decade as social media distractions have arisen. We’ve been obsessed with relatively trivial non-events that don’t actually impact that many people’s lives while the overall trajectory of the country has been pretty good.
I mean, we have the lowest unemployment rate in most of our lives, a pretty robust stock market, wages are increasing at levels not seen in years while inflation remains low, interest rates are very low as well, there’s honestly not that much to be upset about in this country outside of Trump’s tweets.
Even the shutdown, honestly, is mostly political theater. Yes, the federal workers are on furlough, but they’re all going to be paid their salaries for a month without having worked at all. Provided you had just a little bit of savings, the only inconvenience you faced was not getting your paycheck sent to you on a regular basis. Which, honestly, as a person who has been self-employed for a long time is how I’ve lived for much of the past 10-15 years. If you’re self-employed you may not receive a standard paycheck every two weeks. In fact, sometimes you might have to go months between checks.
This entire story line about federal workers seems made up to me. They’re all going to get paid. The lesson here, to me, is never put yourself in a position where you can’t go at least a month without a paycheck.
Like I said last week, if you told me I wouldn’t get paid for a month, but I wouldn’t have to work either, I’d sign up in a heartbeat. I’d love to have a full month off of work and know my paycheck was still coming for all that time I didn’t have to work.
I suspect most of you reading this at normal jobs would feel the same way.
Which is why this entire debate about the government being shut down is mostly political theater lacking in substance.
Thanks for reading the mailbag.

 

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