Those who intentionally disseminate conspiracy theories that they know — or should know — to be false got a much-deserved warning this week.
Keep it up, and you might just have to pay for your lies financially.
Lenny Pozner rightfully won a defamation suit against a couple of authors who claimed in their book that the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that claimed the life of Pozner’s 6-year-old son and that of 26 others was a hoax.
Pozner says that thanks to the despicable work of the book’s authors, James Fetzer and Mike Palacek, his life has been a living hell. Not only has he had to deal with the grief of losing a child to gun violence, but he has been harassed by hoaxers, received death threats and been falsely labeled a crisis actor.
The conduct of the authors was so outrageous — and the massacre at the Connecticut school in 2012 so well-documented — that the trial judge in Wisconsin did not even bother letting the case go before a jury and granted summary judgment. We don’t know how much Fetzer and Palacek made on their book of lies, but he hope Pozner gets all of it and then some. The publisher of the book, “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” already settled with Pozner out of court for an undisclosed sum, agreed to halt the book’s sales and issued a public apology.
Pozner — joined by several other grieving and aggrieved families — isn’t stopping there. There are at least nine other cases filed against hoaxers, the principal one being Alex Jones, who has made a multimillion-dollar fortune peddling baseless right-wing conspiracy theories on radio and his Infowars website.
We would be reluctant normally to side against those who use the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and a free press as their defense. But these hoaxers aren’t journalists. They are shameless liars who try to make a buck by preying on the gullibility and prejudices of their audience while harming innocent people. In the Sandy Hook case, they incited others to heap scorn on people who only deserve sympathy and compassion.
The First Amendment is not a totally unfettered right. It may shield unpopular ideas, but it does not shield slander and libel. Those who don’t respect the difference should be required to pay up.