James Woods Avoids Multimillion Dollar Lawsuit With Special Character at the End of His Tweet
James Woods has a reputation for being outspoken on Twitter, but the conservative actor knows when to put a question mark in the right place.
And that knowledge could have saved him $3 million as part of a lawsuit brought on by a Bernie Sanders supporter.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Woods was being sued by Portia Boulger, a liberal activist whose picture had been used in the Chicago Tribune.
The actor, known for his Twitter activism, had used a tweet to note a similarity between the woman and another woman seen giving a Nazi salute during a Trump campaign event back in 2016.
He posted a picture of Boulger next to the woman giving the Nazi salute, along with the caption, “So-called #Trump ‘Nazi’ is a #BernieSanders agitator/operative?”
Woods later took it down after it became clear the women were not the same.
Various followers have stated that the Nazi salute individual and the #Bernie campaign woman are NOT the same person. #Chicago #Trump
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) March 12, 2016
However, Boulger filed a lawsuit for defamation and invasion of privacy. According to The Blaze, that lawsuit was worth $3 million.
Last week, an Ohio-based U.S. District Court Judge George C. Smith dismissed the suit, ruling that the question mark Woods used in the tweet made it clear Woods was inviting Twitterers to make their own decisions of the matter.
“Were it not for the question mark at the end of the text, this would be an easy case,” Smith wrote in his decision.
“But the question mark cannot be ignored. The vast majority of courts to consider questions as potential defamatory statements have found them not to be assertions of fact. Rather, a question indicates a defendant’s lack of definitive knowledge about the issue and invites the reader to consider various possibilities.”
While Smith noted that a question mark isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for defamation, he said there were no other cases that held someone liable when they had used similar language to Woods’ — especially given that “Ohio recognizes an ‘innocent construction rule’ with regard to defamation.
“That is, if allegedly defamatory words are susceptible of two meanings, one defamatory and one innocent, the defamatory meaning should be rejected, and the innocent meaning adopted,” the ruling said.
“Here, the Court can certainly envision a reasonable reader interpreting Woods’s tweet as an assertion of fact that Boulger and the woman giving the Nazi salute are the same person. However, it cannot say as a matter of law that all reasonable readers would interpret the tweet in that way.”
Furthermore, Smith wrote that “(i)f readers understand Woods to be making an assertion of fact — ‘The person pictured giving the Nazi salute is, in fact, Boulger’ — then that assertion is undisputedly verifiable. Indeed, Woods characterizes his tweet as asking his followers to verify that assertion, and various media sources … have disproven it.”
“But if, instead, readers interpret the tweet as Woods asking a question — ‘Is the person pictured giving the Nazi salute, in fact, Boulger?’ — the question itself cannot be proven or disproven because questions, by their nature, lack truth values.”
For those of you who like long legal opinions, there are a few nuggets other than what I’ve adumbrated above in Judge Smith’s opinion, including the nature of Twitter feeds in a legal context.
Feel free to read it here.
Boulger by Eriq Gardner on Scribd
As for Woods, it’s yet more proof that the cagey actor knows what he can and can’t get away with.
Dare we say gubernatorial run?
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