Will Sherrod Win Her Suit Against Breitbart?

She may face tough odds

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It's official: ousted USDA official Shirley Sherrod is going to sue Andrew Breitbart. She made the announcement Thursday at the National Association of Black Journalists convention. Though it's not exactly clear what she'll be suing him for, commentators are mulling over defamation law trying to predict the likely outcome.

A little background: Sherrod was fired from her post at the USDA after Breitbart posted an edited video of her that suggested she's racist. The full video shows she was misleadingly taken out of context. Breitbart claims the video was edited before given to him. Could Sherrod win a libel or defamation suit? Opinions after the jump

  • Sherrod May Very Well Win, writes Michael Yaki, an attorney and columnist at The San Francisco Chronicle: "Defamation law clearly puts Breitbart in a tough position. He deliberately aired a video that was edited in a way to put Sherrod in a very bad light. Breitbart even said on Fox News that the purpose of the tape was to show that racism existed in the NAACP, even though the speech Sherrod gave was precisely the opposite -- it was about overcoming prejudice and stereotypes. Before the tape, Sherrod was not a public figure for whom a higher legal threshold of 'actual malice' would be required, though in this case it would be hard to say that malice or a reckless disregard to the truth wasn't present."
  • I Beg to Differ, writes Ed Morrissey at Hot Air: "Sue Breitbart for what, though? Defamation? Sherrod is a public official, which makes that kind of lawsuit darned near impossible. Breitbart used the clip to criticize the NAACP, not Sherrod directly, although she certainly came into the line of fire. People are allowed to criticize public officials in harsh and even unfair terms, especially when they make public remarks." Megan Friedman at Time agrees: "It is unclear at this point what she will sue Breitbart for, but she will probably have a tough road ahead of her. Years of precedent show it's extremely difficult to win a case based on libel in the U.S."
  • This Will Definitely Have an Effect Beyond the Courtroom, writes Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice: "After working on two newspapers that were sued from time to time it is worth noting: even if a lawsuit fails, the fact it has been brought tends to instill a bit of caution. So whether he is successfully sued or not, it's likely some networks, mainstream media and more careful Internet news sites will balk before running any of his future allegations -- perhaps checking them out a bit more. Even if Sherrod loses, she will put Breirbart under the microscope and -- most likely -- on the courtroom stand."
  • It's About Time, writes David Neiwert at Crooks and Liars: "This is long overdue; frankly, I always felt that both Van Jones and ACORN officials should have sued Fox and/or Breitbart after they were smeared, just so that they will think twice before smearing other people in the future. So Sherrod will be carrying the burden forward for many of us on the progressive left who have been victimized by these crooks and liars."
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