“‘Ass-Hat’ Is a Word That Has No Meaning. It Is Just an Epithet”
From McCarthy v. Harris, 2021 WL 8533067, decided by Maricopa County (Arizona) Superior Court Judge Randall Warner on July 21, but just posted to Westlaw a couple of weeks ago:
As alleged in the Complaint, Plaintiff Daniel McCarthy is a “Republican political hopeful.” Defendant James T. Harris is a talk show host whose program, The Conservative Circus, is a podcast and a radio broadcast on KFYI in Phoenix. Defendant iHeartRadio, Inc. owns KFYI.
On November 7, 2020, McCarthy and Harris attended a rally at the Arizona State Capitol. The Complaint describes the rally as “a Republican-based ‘stop the steal”‘ rally. Harris spoke and, nearing the end of his speech, several attendees began chanting for McCarthy to speak. McCarthy then spoke. The Complaint alleges that McCarthy’s conduct at the rally was peaceful and focused on political issues.
In his radio show on November 9 and 10, 2020, Harris discussed McCarthy and his encounter with him at the rally. McCarthy alleges that several things Harris said about him were defamatory….
[A.] Non-Actionable Statements.
Several of the statements McCarthy alleges are, as a matter of law, not actionable because they are just name-calling. These are:
- McCarthy is “shady,” “unhinged,” and “crazy.”
- McCarthy has “shady ass hat people around him.”
- “McCarthy is one of the ‘ass hats that can end up starting problems, starting trouble’ for the Republican movement.”
- McCarthy is a “lunatic.”
- McCarthy is a candidate who is “unhinged,” “shady,” and “crazy.”
- McCarthy is a “temper tantrum throwing juvenile.”
“Ass-hat” is a word that has no meaning. It is just an epithet. So is the term “temper tantrum throwing juvenile.”
Words like “crazy” and “lunatic,” while they have meanings in other contexts, can only be construed as hyperbole or rhetoric in the political context. Nobody listening to Harris’s broadcast would think he was claiming McCarthy suffered from mental illness. Similarly, the words “shady” and “unhinged” cannot reasonably be construed as asserting facts about McCarthy.
[2.] Opinions About McCarthy’s Conduct.
Other allege[d] statements are not actionable because they are opinions about McCarthy’s conduct that cannot be proven true or false. They are:
- McCarthy’s actions were “antics.”
- McCarthy’s conduct was “absurd.”
- McCarthy’s conduct was “crazy.”
- McCarthy’s conduct at the rally was “shady” and “crazy.”
- By his conduct at the rally, McCarthy has “disqualified himse
Article from Reason.com