Rachel Maddow Demands Dismissal of $50 Million Defamation Lawsuit

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has hit back hard against a $50 million defamation lawsuit brought by heavy metal rocker turned radio host and conservative preacher Bradlee Dean. Maddow and NBC Universal are looking to punish Dean for bringing an allegedly meritless suit by filing an anti-SLAPP motion to end the case and force him to hand over legal fees.

According to court papers filed this week in D.C. federal court, the defendants say, "With this lawsuit -- his second -- Dean seeks to move one step closer in his self-described mission to stop the 'radical gay agenda.' The law does not permit him to use the judicial process in this fashion."

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Dean brought a defamation lawsuit last July, arguing that Maddow twisted Dean's words in an effort to undermine Republican candidate Michele Bachmann. On The Rachel Maddow Show, Dean's comments on his own radio show were clipped to become:

"Muslims are calling for the execution for homosexuals in America...they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible, the Judeo Christian God. They seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do. Because these people are livid about enforcing their laws, they know homosexuality is an abomination...If America won't enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that's what you're seeing in America today."

Maddow then ran Dean's later disclaimer that he has "never and will never call for the execution of homosexuals," and followed it up with some commentary, but it was enough for a defamation lawsuit -- first filed in state court, then dropped, then filed again in federal court to escape the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act.

For Dean's full quote on his radio show, and a video clip of how Maddow treated it in her show, see our post at the time the first lawsuit was filed.

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Maddow, MSNBC, and NBCU -- the defendants -- responded in court this week, saying the First Amendment protects what the TV host had to say. The defendants give three reasons in a 51-page motion why Dean's lawsuit is likely to fail:

  1. "One, the broadcasts truthfully reported on Dean’s May 15th statements. Those broadcasts re-played original audio of Dean speaking on the May 15th radio show. Dean does not – and cannot – allege that he did not make those controversial statements. The fact that NBCUniversal broadcast the essence but not the entirety of what Dean said during that radio show, as he now protests, does not change this analysis. Dean bears sole responsibility for the consequences of his words, however much he may try to distance himself from the backlash."

  2. "Two, the commentary or rebuke Maddow offered about Dean’s statements was classic opinion and rhetorical hyperbole, and thus, cannot be actionable as a matter of law. As Dean is entitled to his opinions, however objectionable, so too is Maddow entitled to hers."

  3. "Three, the fair comment privilege protects Maddow’s commentary. The broadcasts featured Dean’s actual statements and clearly indicated the source of those statements. Viewers were free to make up their own minds as to whether they agreed with Maddow’s remarks."

The defendants, represented by Laura Handman at Davis Wright Tremaine, also attack Dean for delivering a lawsuit that "reads as a political tirade against NBCUniversal and its on-air hosts, especially Maddow, for their support of liberal causes and their alleged 'attacks' on Congresswoman Bachmann, who is notably not a plaintiff in this action."

The District of Columbia enacted its anti-SLAPP Act of 2010 to dissuade lawsuits aimed at stifling free speech. One of the first tests was in Shirley Sherrod's lawsuit against the late Andrew Breitbart. In January, another lawsuit was dismissed under D.C.'s Act when a firefighter failed in a defamation claim against a local Fox television affiliate. There are fifteen states that currently have anti-SLAPP statutes, according to the Citizen Media Law Project.

Read Maddow/MSNBC's full anti-SLAPP motion on the following page.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner