Baseball fans in Texas and around the country may be aware that the Los Angeles Dodgers placed pitcher Trevor Bauer on paid leave in July 2021 after a California woman accused him of assaulting her. Prosecutors in Los Angeles have declined to pursue a case against Bauer, and a restraining order against him was lifted after a judge determined that the woman’s misled the court, but the pitcher’s future remains uncertain. Bauer has turned to social media to try to repair his reputation, and a tweet he posted on March 3 announced that he has filed a defamation lawsuit against the sports commentary website Deadspin.
Bauer’s defamation lawsuit appears to have been sparked by a July 2021 article posted on Deadspin that stated the woman he allegedly assaulted suffered a fractured skull. While the woman did claim that she suffered a serious head injury after being punched by Bauer, a CT scan performed after the alleged assault found no signs of a skull fracture. Bauer says other media outlets subsequently corrected their stories and removed all mentions of a skull fracture, but Deadspin continued to print false information in what he describes as a deliberate attempt to ruin his career.
Like most public figures who file defamation lawsuits, Bauer faces an uphill battle. People who are not in the public eye must only prove that a statement that caused hatred, ridicule or contempt was false in order to prevail in a defamation case, but politicians, celebrities and other public figures must be able to convince the court that the defendant acted with actual malice.
The First Amendment
Defamation cases against media outlets are more difficult to win in the United States because the First Amendment protects both free speech and the freedom of the press, but it does not give newspapers or websites the right to publish whatever they like. Media outlets should not be punished for making innocent mistakes, but they should be held responsible when they act recklessly or become embroiled in vendettas.