Defamation, Don Imus, Free Speech, Hair, Lawsuit of the Day, Media and Journalism, Racism, Rudeness, Sports

Lawsuit of the Day: Vaughn v. Imus

Don Imus Donald Imus nappy headed ho Above the Law blog.jpgThere has been some discussion already, but here’s a dedicated thread for a topic that there’s no shortage of opinions on: Rutgers basketball player Kia Vaughn’s defamation lawsuit against radio host Don Imus.
Thus far, reactions seem to be similar. From our tipster:

It seems like a likely loser, because I don’t see a false statement of fact. I don’t think anyone really believes Imus was trying to impute unchastity to the Rutgers basketball team (i.e., calling them prostitutes); rather, he was making a really inappropriate and racist joke, and everyone understood it as such.

Nevertheless, although it’s a legal loser, I predict Imus will settle as a gesture of goodwill. Perhaps a scholarship will be set up.

Professor Ann Althouse is dubious:

It’s hard not to be distracted by Imus’s large pile of money. Would it kill him to share? But I’d hate to think one could win defamation suits on a theory like this.

David Nieporent concurs:

Imus’s comments might have been nasty and uncalled for, but calling someone a ‘nappy headed ho’ is not defamatory unless it is interpreted as an actual accusation that the person is a prostitute.

Fine, the claim based on “ho” may be a no-go. But what about the allegation of nappy-headedness? As one commenter notes: “[A]ll of the women on the Rutgers team had straightened hair.”
Good point. And to some people — e.g., Glamour editors — alleging that someone has nappy hair is defamatory per se.
Don Imus Sued by Rutgers Basketball Player [ABC News]
Rutgers basketball player sues Imus [AP via MSNBC]
“Don Imus referred to my client as an unchaste woman. That was and is a lie.” [Althouse]
Imus in the Courtroom, Update [Overlawyered]

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