By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Suing Michael Moore

The double-amputee war veteran who’s suing Michael Moore over the way he’s portrayed in “Fahrenheit 911” seems to be depending on a fairly novel legal theory. Politics aside, journalists and filmmakers everywhere should be rooting for Moore.

According to the Boston Globe and Reuters, Peter Damon, who lost both arms in an accident while repairing a helicopter, is alleging only that Moore used an NBC News clip of him being interviewed. As best as I can tell, Damon’s not claiming that Moore distorted that interview in any way. Rather, Damon’s upset because he’s a supporter of President Bush, and Moore incorporated the clip into his notoriously anti-Bush documentary.

“It was kind of almost like the enemy was using me for propaganda,” Damon was quoted as saying. “What soldier wants to be involved in that? I didn’t lose my arms over there to come back and be used as ammunition against my commander-in-chief.”

Now, I haven’t watched “Fahrenheit 911” again to analyze the Damon segment. But I will grant him that Moore may well have given his viewers the mistaken impression that Damon was being critical of Bush. As Reuters reports:

In “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the footage of Damon follows a statement by Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, who says of the Bush administration: “You know they say they’re not leaving any veterans behind, but they’re leaving all kinds of veterans behind.”

But as long as Damon himself was portrayed accurately, his legal claim ought to be dismissed.

No doubt Moore faced hurdles simply using the NBC News footage. Even though the fair-use doctrine of copyright law clearly allows third parties such as Moore to show excerpts for the purpose of commentary, media corporations have gotten more and more aggressive about protecting their turf. NPR’s “On the Media” recently reported on how difficult it’s become to claim fair use; click here and here for transcripts.

If the subjects of interviews, accurately portrayed, can now sue over contextual complaints such as Damon’s, then the First Amendment would be dealt an enormous blow. Damon has suffered a lot, and it’s a shame that he believes he was used as an unwitting tool. But was Moore supposed to seek Damon’s permission before using the news clip? Ask him what he thought of the president? That’s apparently what Damon and his lawyer believe. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous.

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  1. metallicaMobes

    What is ridiculous is the fact that Michael Moore was low enough to use Damon to blatantly mischaracterize him and to attribute Damon as an anti-War and anti-Bush victim. The context was at best extremely misleading, and Moore should be ashamed of himself for allowing and indeed encouraging the sheeple who believed and loved his crock-umentary to believe that Damon was somehow contributing explicitly or implicitly to Moore’s film. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was illegal…

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Dave — Moore was engaging in media commentary. He chose to use a news clip rather than interview Damon himself. I haven’t seen “F-911” since ’04, so I can’t remember, but I assume it’s obvious that it’s a news clip. Given all that … how was Moore supposed to know whether Damon was anti-war or not? And it seems a stretch, based on what Damon is claiming, that viewers would automatically assume he was anti-war just by watching “F-911.”

  3. Anonymous

    People file to settle. Will the vet and his counsel go all the way with this on principle? Or will they take six-figures to go away? Moore has been in a quiesent period,but he’s going to have to fight this,even if it appears harsh on his part. The vet is hardly the first guy filmed saying something he feels was out of context, relative to the material presented.

  4. Rick in Duxbury

    I grant all the reasons why Moore’s Right to Lie must be protected. That said, this is like filing an amicus brief on behalf of NAMBLA. If he wants to use patently misleading sound bites, he needs to be called on it. The truth is the truth. He doesn’t get to lie with impunity. If it’s wrong to “Swiftboat” Kerry, it’s wrong to do it to Bush with Sgt. Damon. (Unless Moore and his acolytes hate Bush more than they love their country, that is). Think he has the stones to apologize?

  5. Anonymous

    Based on the same principle,maybe W. can bring suit over the kindergarten scene? He probably didn’t give his permission to participate in the film.

  6. Anonymous

    Moore using a clip of a wounded soldier is the same as the Swift-boating of John Kerry? I thought conservatives hated relativism of all kinds. I guess not. Did Moore claim the soldier injured himself as the Swift boat folks did with Kerry? Did he misidentify the soldier? Attribute words to the soldier that the soldier didn’t use? If not, I fail to see what the conservative folks are getting so exercised about. Oh wait, I know. It’s the old distraction from the real issues game. I’m surprised how many Michael Moore haters actually watched the film. Or are you just going with what you read at Instapundit and Town Hall?

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Rick in Duxbury — I can understand why Damon would be unhappy, but what untruth did Moore tell about him?

  8. Dan

    I think that the fact that Damon stood next to Ted Kennedy during an anti-war speech following the interview might put a damper on his lawsuit.

  9. whispers

    I’m wondering if the people who bought the Damon story so eagerly will be revising their statements anytime soon…

  10. metallicaMobes

    I do loathe the very instant-burrito-wrapper-littered ground that Michael Moore tramples upon, but again, I’m not saying that what he did was ILLEGAL, but unethical- not to mention showing a lazy work ethic, and a plethora of unprofessional “research”. (oh boy, you can watch NBC News, let’s make a documentary)

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