Elon Musk SLAPPs Media Matters For Daring To Speak The Truth

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Elon Musk claims to be a “free speech absolutist.” What that means is unclear. Apparently, the Great and Powerful Musk thinks it is perfectly OK to threaten someone with grievous bodily harm or post lies about them online so they lose their job because, hey, people should be free to say anything they want, right? What does freedom of speech mean if you can’t say what’s on your mind, no matter how much it hurts someone else?

Musk’s concept of free speech is clearly at odds with the law, but he doesn’t care. He provides a forum for everyone to say what’s on the their mind — unless it offends Musk’s tender sensibilities. Then he gets his knickers in a knot and sics a squadron of lawyers on them to punish them for daring to exercise their right to free speech. Such two-faced hypocrisy is OK in the magical mystery tour of Musk’s life because he is rich enough to make his own rules and force everyone else to comply with them.

Musk And The SLAPP Suit

A SLAPP Suit is one in which a litigant uses the legal process to gain an unfair advantage. According to the ACLU of Ohio, SLAPP is an acronym for a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The term was coined in the 1980’s by two University of Denver professors, George Pring and Penelope Canan, who co-authored SLAPPS: Getting Sued for Speaking Out. In its most basic form, a SLAPP suit is a civil complaint or counterclaim filed against people or organizations who speak out on issues of public interest or concern.

SLAPP suits are often brought by businesses, government bodies, or elected officials against those who oppose them on issues of public concern. In the case of a business interest, the filers may be seeking to protect an economic interest. They are also filed against individuals and organizations who attempt to make their voice heard on an issue by expressing their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom to petition the government. A large, well-funded organization may be SLAPPed, but more often, individuals with fewer resources are the victims of SLAPP suits.

A SLAPP suit is often disguised as an ordinary civil claim such as defamation, invasion of privacy, or interference with contract and/or economic advantage. Defamation is one of the most common legal claims used for SLAPP suits and is generally defined as a false statement of fact, either written (libel) or spoken (slander), which damages the plaintiff’s reputation. One of the key characteristics of a SLAPP suit is that it is not necessarily designed to achieve a favorable verdict. Instead, it is designed to intimidate the target in order to discourage them and others from speaking out on an issue of public importance.

In addition to engendering fear and intimidation, the party initiating the suit often seeks to bleed the other party of resources and produce a chilling effect, not only on the defendant’s expression of First Amendment rights but also on those who consider speaking out on the issue in the future. In essence, SLAPPs are designed to discourage public discussion by using our legal system to choke the exercise of free speech.

Common Dreams says one of the most notorious SLAPP suits was brought by Hulk Hogan against Gawker for defamation in 2007, a suit that forced Gawker into bankruptcy. Here’s the backstory: Later it was discovered that the suit was bankrolled by right-wing billionaire (and former Musk business partner) Peter Thiel, who had a grudge against Gawker because it published articles that hurt his feelings.

Last November, Elon Musk announced on X a “thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and ALL those who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company.” He added, “Their board, their donors, their network of dark money, all of them…” would be included in the suit’s scope. What heinous act did Media Matters commit to evoke such outrage? Why, it had the audacity to point out that ads by prominent corporations appeared alongside “pro-Nazi content” that was visible to users.

Media Matters for America is a 501(c)3 registered nonprofit, which describes itself as a “progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” It was founded in 2004 at the height of the George W. Bush administration. Ever since then, it has targeted the right-wing media echo chamber, including Fox News and other prominent cable, newspaper, and radio broadcasters, who coordinate the messaging of pro-corporate and reactionary forces within the Republican Party and beyond. Musk is having none of that woke nonsense.

Musk SLAPP Suit Leads To Staffing Cuts

On May 30, Media Matters announced severe staffing cuts. Its president, Angelo Carusone, said: “We’re confronting a legal assault on multiple fronts and given how rapidly the media landscape is shifting, we need to be extremely intentional about how we allocate resources in order to stay effective. Nobody does what Media Matters does.” Due to the financial pressures created by Musk’s SLAPP suit, Carusone explained the group was “taking this action now to ensure that we are sustainable, sturdy and successful for whatever lies ahead.” More than a dozen staffers, including researchers and digital producers, were among those terminated.

Ben Collins, CEO of the satirical website The Onion, told Common Dreams, “This is why right wing billionaires sue people reporting on them. They know they can’t win these lawsuits but they also know legal fees will cripple the little guy reporting on their lies and crimes. This is how free speech is actually chilled — vengeful dipshit billionaires.”

“This is the latest example of billionaires and pandering politicians abusing the legal system to retaliate against their critics and harm the public’s right to know,” said Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, about the layoffs at Media Matters. “The result is that the American public loses access to information in a critical election year.”

In March of this year, a federal judge in California threw out a similar lawsuit brought by X and Elon Musk against the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit group that had publicly accused the platform of profiting off hateful content published on the platform. In dismissing the case, US District Court Judge Charles Breyer cited the transparent motivation behind the suit as part of the reason it lacked legitimacy. It was “evident,” said Breyer in his ruling, that “X Corp. has brought this case in order to punish CCDH for CCDH publications that criticized X Corp — and perhaps in order to dissuade others who might wish to engage in such criticism.”

Tim Karr, senior director at the media advocacy group Free Press, wrote in an op-ed for Common Dreams last year that Musk’s “attempts to silence his critics are not surprising to anyone who has followed Musk’s erratic behavior” over recent years. “The magnate positions himself as a champion of free and open debate, while taking extraordinary efforts to silence any honest criticism and independent research that might negatively impact Musk and his many businesses.” Karr concluded that the “only thing absolute about Elon is his refusal to give a fair hearing to any of his critics. And that’s absolutely not free-speech absolutism.”

The Takeaway

Musk is many things — serial entrepreneur being just one of them. He, perhaps more than anyone, has made the transition to electric cars possible. Yet time and time again he has used his wealth to silence criticism of himself or his companies. His claim to being a free speech absolutist has been destroyed by his insistence on protecting the most extreme voices while working to silence those who disagree with him. That makes him basically a thug rather than a knight in shining armor. The word that seems to best fit the talented Mister Musk is “hypocrite.” If he is your hero, you may want to have your moral compass recalibrated soon.

For a primer on free speech today, please see below:

Elon Musk Free Speech
Copyright Steve Hanley 2024. All rights reserved.

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