Judge Dismisses Weak Libel Suit Against White House Critic

A critic of the White House representing himself in court took a big step in winning his legal battle against one of Washington’s top law firms when a federal judge dismissed a $30 million libel suit on Feb. 28.

Self-published author Larry Sinclair, a non-attorney, won from U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, left, pre-trial dismissal of the claims filed by Patton Boggs on behalf of its client, Daniel Parisi and websites Parisi owns. In 2010, Parisi sued Sinclair and several book distributors for a book passage that briefly suggested that Parisi’s website, WhiteHouse.com, was pornographic.

Even more important than Sinclair’s David versus Goliath court victory this week is what the case shows about the traditional news media’s standards for reporting on sex scandal allegations against the powerful. Only a handful of news organizations have ever covered the case despite its potentially large implications. Parisi and Patton Boggs, the largest grossing lobbying firm in Washington, supposedly acted independently of the Obama White House in seeking to use feeble legal arguments to stifle Sinclair and his 2009 book, Barack Obama & Larry Sinclair: Cocaine, Sex, Lies & Murder?

Sinclair’s core claim in the book is that he performed oral sex on then-Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama during two casual encounters in 1999. Sinclair, at right after his hearing last year, claims also that they used cocaine together and that a Chicago man died mysteriously after reputedly living a similar lifestyle. Sinclair first stepped forward with his claim in an interview in January 2008 during the Presidential campaign. Arrested by Delaware authorities on bad check charges they later dismissed for lack of evidence, he claims he has no political agenda beyond adding a footnote to much-larger political debates.

Many Obama defenders who hear about him on the web hate him without exploring any of his claims. He persists, and picks up some defenders. The mainstream media almost totally ignore him even as they continue to headline sex scandals involving a few familiar targets, such as Presidents Clinton and Kennedy. Many high-level public officials have engaged in similar conduct that could be documented, inKenneth Starrsiders often say in private. But news organizations typically create case-by-case news standards that reflect not simply evidence and standard procedures, but the perceived power of the scandal target and of the enemies pushing the allegation.

Legal inquiries also sometimes proceed on a highly selective basis based on such factors, with legal action serving as a news peg for stories. A Public Broadcasting System documentary on the Clinton Presidency currently portrays a recent example: Kenneth Starr, left, was a supposedly Independent Prosecutor of the Whitewater financial allegations. He failed to nail President Clinton in that -- and so set a trap to catch him lying about sex with Monica Lewinsky.

Pack journalism generally provides protection for news reports about the most familiar targets, with details typically honed to stimulate soft-core prurient interest. Thus Lewinsky was and remains described in many accounts as a "21-year-old intern" in news accounts even though she was at least 22 and a former intern at the relevant times. Also, reporters typically veer away from pursuing anything related to homosexual claims except in the most dramatic and specific circumstances, such as the arrest of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) in an airport men’s room and the forced resignation of Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) from Congress in a page scandal.

I have seen Sinclair discuss his claims at a lecture at the National Press Club, and interviewed him about his suicide attempt when he took overdose of morphine in despondency over the lawsuit. He had called investigative reporter Wayne Madsen with a suicide farewell, without leaving a location. By Sinclair’s good fortune, a Secret Service agent surreptitiously monitoring his activities intervened to save his life by alerting management of a West Virginia hotel where he was staying. Sinclair says he was released from a hospital after four days in intensive care and then 10 days of counseling, and feels better now. Of Southern background and describing what he calls "independent conservative" views, he attended the recent Conservative Political Action Convention in Washington, DC this month as a blogger for his websites, www.SinclairNews.Net and LSNewsGroup.com.

Like most reporters, I have scant basis to know with certainty about any public figure’s private life. Similarly, I can recall in 2008 that while I worked in the business community and supported Obama I was concerned about the standards whereby Sinclair could rent a room at the National Press Club to announce his claims.

But the years since have persuaded me that the much bigger concern for the public should be the danger of selectively suppressing all evidence of most allegations of sexual and financial scandal while inflating others in a madcap, standard-less process. This lends itself to conspiracies by political operatives -- who do exist and who are very effective, as I have learned -- to blackmail public officials to follow the agenda of puppet-masters.

As one remedy, the legal and journalistic procedures for handling for such allegations should be reasonably uniform. In that spirit, we report on the judge's dismissal of an obviously trumped-up lawsuit. Patton Boggs submitted one legal filing alone of 270 pages, creating the kind of enormous burden for Sinclair typical in strategic litigation. We reached out without success for comment from Parisi and Patton Boggs, as reflected in a column below, and will update this report with any further information we receive.

Leon, the in this case is a Republican who was confirmed in 2002 for the bench after nomination by President George W. Bush and long government service. Leon anticipated this week's decision a year ago, as we reported then:

During the hearing, the judge frequently pushed the plaintiff’s lawyer to justify the legal basis of the suit and its claims for damages. Parisi’s lawyer is a partner at Patton Boggs, arguably Washington’s most famous and most powerful lobbying law firm. “Is it your position,” the judge asked the lawyer, “that just because somebody complains [about a book] a court has to issue a cease-and-desist order?” The judge questioned the plaintiffs to cite controlling case law for the proposition that a court could ban a book on a claim of falsity when no legal determination has occurred that facts are in error.

Later, the judge pressed Oparil on his claim of $30 million in damages in alleged lost value from the site because of references by Sinclair. “This isn’t exactly Facebook we’re talking about here,” the judge said. Sinclair’s book mentioned Parisi’s site in trying address why the site asserted that Sinclair had failed a lie-detector test about his claim that he met Obama on two occasions.

In court, Sinclair held up a manila envelope that he said contained further proof about Parisi that he wanted to file with the court in support of his dismissal motion. “Why not hold onto that?” the judge responded. “The court may not need it.”


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Related Columns

Justice Integrity Project, Libel Suit Hearing In DC Explores Political Free Press Issues, Andrew Kreig, March 1, 2011. Attorneys for three major book distributors asked a federal judge Feb. 28 to remove them from a libel lawsuit that they described as threatening public affairs book publishing in the United States if allowed to proceed. Despite those threatened stakes, there’s been virtually no news coverage of the case. This is doubtless because the book at issue ─ Barack Obama & Larry Sinclair: Cocaine, Sex, and Lies & Murder? ─ is self-published by author Larry Sinclair and highly controversial. Just three writers at most, all for web-based media and including this editor, were among the seven spectators for the hearing in Washington, DC’s federal courthouse.

Wayne Madsen Report, Federal judge tosses out law suit against Obama accuser Sinclair, Feb. 29, 2012. (Subsription Required.) In a decision announced on February 28, U.S. Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a $30 million lawsuit brought against Larry Sinclair by Internet publisher Dan Parisi. Last March, Leon threw out lawsuits brought by Parisi against the distributors of Sinclair's book, Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.com, in which two gay trysts in 1999 between Sinclair and then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama are described in detail. Parisi and his three companies, Whitehouse.com Inc., Whitehouse Network LLC, and White House Communications Inc., were represented by the expensive Washington powerhouse law firm of Patton Boggs. Parisi alleged that Sinclair's book was libelous against him. However, Leon, in throwing out the cases against Sinclair and his distributors, rejected the libel claims.

 

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BBC, James Murdoch quits News International, Feb. 28, 2012. James Murdoch has stepped down as executive chairman of News International, the UK newspaper business that owns the Sun and the Times titles. The newspaper publisher has been tainted by phone-hacking allegations.The scandal led the company to close its News of the World title in July last year. Murdoch will remain as deputy chief operating officer of parent group News Corporation, run by his father, Rupert.