Democracy & Elections

The Lawfare Podcast: Defamation, Disinformation, and the Depp-Heard Trial

Jen Patja, Evelyn Douek, Quinta Jurecic, RonNell Anderson Jones
Thursday, June 16, 2022, 12:00 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

If you loaded up the internet or turned on the television somewhere in the United States over the last two months, it’s been impossible to avoid news coverage of the defamation trial of actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard—both of whom sued each other over a dispute relating to allegations by Heard of domestic abuse by Depp. In early June, a Virginia jury found that both had defamed the other. The litigation has received a great deal of coverage for what it might say about the fate of the Me Too movement—but the flood of falsehoods online around the trial raises questions about how useful defamation law can really be in countering lies. 

This week on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with RonNell Andersen Jones, the Lee E. Teitelbaum Professor of Law at the University of Utah College of Law and an expert on the First Amendment and the interaction between the press and the courts. Along with Lyrissa Lidsky, she’s written about defamation law, disinformation, and the Depp-Heard litigation. They talked about why some commentators think defamation could be a useful route to counter falsehoods, why RonNell thinks the celebrity litigation undercuts that argument, and the few cases in which claims of libel or slander really could have an impact in limiting the spread of lies.

Jen Patja is the editor and producer of The Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.
Evelyn Douek is an Assistant Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Senior Research Fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. She holds a doctorate from Harvard Law School on the topic of private and public regulation of online speech. Prior to attending HLS, Evelyn was an Associate (clerk) to the Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel of the High Court of Australia. She received her LL.B. from UNSW Sydney, where she was Executive Editor of the UNSW Law Journal.
Quinta Jurecic is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior editor at Lawfare. She previously served as Lawfare's managing editor and as an editorial writer for the Washington Post.
RonNell Andersen Jones is a First Amendment scholar who teaches, researches and writes on legal issues affecting the press and on the intersection between media and the courts, with a particular emphasis on the United States Supreme Court.

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