Glenn Beck may set astounding legal precedent on public figures

Posted Jul 26, 2014 by Calvin Wolf
Glenn Beck, the famous conservative political commentator, has created the possibility of a groundbreaking legal precedent while defending himself in a defamation lawsuit.
Conservative pundit Glenn Beck
Conservative pundit Glenn Beck
Gage Skidmore
Glenn Beck is a polarizing political pundit, widely known for his conservative views and high-profile media presence. Last month, however, Beck got some bipartisan street cred by claiming that liberals had the right idea on the Iraq War. Admitting that Republicans had been in bad shape since 2008, Beck said that liberals were correct in calling to not invade Iraq back in 2003, reports Politico. Things were looking up for the stalwart right-winger.
A month later, Beck is in hot water over alleged libel, slander, and defamation: According to The Washington Post, Beck has been sued for claiming that Abdulrahman Alharbi, a Saudi national, was complicit in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Though law enforcement has cleared the 20-year-old student of any involvement in the blast, in which he was injured, Beck has apparently smelled a rat.
Now Alharbi is fighting back, suing for defamation in federal court. Evidently understanding that he will likely be found guilty of defamation, since he has accused an individual of a crime even after that individual was cleared by law enforcement, Beck has decided to claim that Alharbi is a public figure and therefore must prove malice in order to win the defamation suit. Though private citizens are protected from others publicly spreading falsehoods about them, public figures have less protection. Malice can be difficult to prove, for the slanderer (or libeler) can always claim the falsehood was a mistake.
Ordinarily, public figures are considered to be politicians and celebrities. Beck is trying to redefine "public figure" far more broadly by insisting that Alharbi, by going to the media to protest his innocence, is a de facto public figure. Obviously, critics are scoffing at Beck's logic, insisting that it could make anyone a public figure after they are slandered.
In the unlikely event that Beck wins in court, it would have drastic ramifications for private citizens. Any private citizen who is defamed would have a tougher time getting justice: If a private citizen speaks publicly in his or her own defense, and thus becomes a public figure under the new Beck standard, he or she must then prove the slanderer had malice aforethought.