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« Losing Shepherd Smith | Main | Church and state »

Oct 29, 2008


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John Burns

Sugar Lips would do well not to tempt Bruce Thompson. He's one of the best lawyers in the State, and a heck of a smart guy. If he thinks he can make it stick, you should put your money on his client.

Jon Lowder

Well, he sure gave them long enough to cease and desist. October 30, 2009 seems a long way away doesn't it? And actually, I don't think Thursday, October 30, 2009 even exists so I guess they have forever to start playing nice or else.

FYI, I'm referencing the first paragraph of page 2.

Patrick Eakes

Liddy might need another $3 million of her personal money if she keeps this shit up.


October 30, 2009 - that's pretty meaningless and funny.

Is this campaign ad in bad taste? Yes. Is it illegal or libel? No. Is it effective? Yes. For both campaigns. It could sway some voters to Dole and also rally Hagan's base.

Someone in Dole's camp is a grade A opposition researcher for finding the link between the Godless Pac and the event. Impressive.


I'm also a great believer in free speech, but that last bit where a female voice, attached to Kay Hagan's picture, says, "There is no God," is just really misleading. A "calculated falsehood," even. I think it's the most vile political ad of the season, which is saying a lot.


Well, as someone who "den[ies] the being of Almighty God" and is therefore supposedly disqualified from holding public office under the NC constitution, I suppose I am not really qualified to comment on the underlying issue of the ad.

But, as someone who knows a thing or two about defamation and first amendment law, I would agree with the folks at Parker Poe that Hagen would have a plausible (though not airtight) case even under the heightened "actual malice" standard that applies to defamation claims by public figures. Of course, I seriously doubt it will ever come to that. More likely the Hagen campaign were using the C&D letter to make their point that the ad is false, defamatory, and disgusting. Good for them.


I agree with Eric. Do the Democrats really want to play this lawsuit game though? Just a reminder that the law applies to everyone.

Jonathan Jones

Eric and Sam, the question I have is: How does calling someone an atheist defame them?

It's not a crime. It's not an infectious disease. It doesn't impeach Hagan's trade. So, as I understand libel per se in North Carolina, that leaves subjecting one to ridicule, contempt or disgrace.

Would a court really say that being an atheist is something for which someone is subject to contempt, ridicule or disgrace?

Ed Cone

The letter (and the post) cite the calculated falsehood standard from Garrison v Lousiana.

Obviously the statements in the ad, including the voice-over, would be negative to many North Carolina voters, and Kay's job right now is getting votes.

Joe Killian


I'm not a lawyer, so this is a serious question for someone (several people?) I believe knows more about this than I do:

If the Dole ad leads people to believe that Hagan is an atheist (if you've see it you'd have to stipulate that), if NC law explicitly bars atheists from holding office and if Hagan is demonstrably not an atheist, isn't there a good argument that Dole is indeed impeaching Hagan's trade and coming dangerously close to publicly accusing her of taking her oath as an NC State Senator without good faith?

You could argue that the "deny the being of Almighty God" part of the article above wouldn't hold up in court, but as long as it's there and as long as this ad clearly suggests Hagan's atheism (is anyone willing to dispute that point?) it looks actionable to me.

Not that I'm arguing for the wisdom of actually going to court over it...


I think it is a hard case to make against a public figure in a political race. Further, there is nothing false at all about the ad that I am aware of. It raises conjecture, but that isn't enough to meet the standard for defamation. It must be false.

I do agree with Eric that the letter was probably a political move rather than a legal one.

Ed Cone

I agree that it's mainly political (I even used the s-word) but to be effective it has to make a plausible complaint, which I think it does, at least in the court of public opinion.

Beau D. Jackson

This is politics, man, and I don’t know how, as a proclaimed Christian, Hagan can accept money raised by an out-of-state atheist group and expect not to get called on it. The way I see it, Hagan’s compromising her values for the sake of money. She’s allowing herself to be a pawn in the master plan to get Obama a filibuster-proof majority, and it’s not unreasonable to believe that she’d compromise her values in the Senate under pressure from other liberal interest groups.

Not that Hagan has been called on this issue, at least by the media. Coverage has been tepid, at best.

Well Ed, seems like Kay isn't such a purist after all, and you might want to pass along the last line to your Pal JR. Beau


According to Hagan, she never received any money from the group so to that extent- if true- the Dole ad is misleading. But misleading ads for political candidates don't warrant lawsuits.

Jonathan Jones

It's been known to happen Sam.

For example, Dan Boyce sued Roy Cooper a few years

Jonathan Jones

I messed up the link somehow.

Hopefully this will work.


Jonathan's question (@5:07) is a good one. In this context, a statement is "defamatory" if it would be understood in a way that tends to harm the plaintiff's reputation. (Jonathan mentions "libel per se" which is a specific category of statements that are considered inherently defamatory, so the plaintiff doesn't have to prove harm to reputation. But other statements may be defamatory, provided the plaintiff can show reputational harm.)

As an unabashed atheist myself, I'd like to think that being called an atheist would not harm someone's reputation. Alas, that's not the world, or at least the country, we live in. In this country today, a political candidate identified as an atheist would have little trouble showing that the label is harmful to their reputation among the electorate.

That said, it wasn't the false allegation of "godlessness" that I considered the potential basis for a claim (like Sam, I suspect a court would treat that more as an opinion or conjecture). The stronger basis would be the assertion (which seemed pretty unambiguous in the ad) that Hagen took money from "Godless Americans PAC". That seems more like an assertion of fact, which, if false (as it appears to be), would be actionable (though in this case it would be necessary also to show that Dole knew or should have known it was false).

But again, I doubt anyone is seriously contemplating a lawsuit here. It makes for an interesting hypothetical that I'll have to remember to use if I ever teach defamation law. And it made for a very nice C&D letter.


That one still hasn't been resolved. My theory in cases like these is to fight free speech with free speech. I think Boyce will probably lose at the end of the day.

David Hoggard

Oh goody... Connie Mack is reincarnated... with Whiskers.


Hagan "cease and desist" letter and complaints not exactly accurate:

"Campaign finance records, however, show that Woody Kaplan -- who is listed as an advisory board member for the (Godless American) PAC and according to Dole's campaign hosted the September fundraiser -- contributed the maximum $2,300 to Hagan's campaign in September."

Not the Editors note: That ol' Jesse Helms lovin', white hands commercial makin' Carter Wrenn sure does suddenly become a valued source when he can be used against Republican's. Funny how turning on the GOP becomes redemption and instantly raises your credibility with some people. John McCain used to be loved by the press when he was attacking his own party. Once he stopped, they turned on him. Wrenn seems to be doing the reverse- at least on this blog.


At least Kay's husband doesn't need viagra to get it up at the thought's of having relations with her.

Maybe that could be a response ad, "Liddy, My husband finds me attractive, why does Bob need Viagra to have sex with your old, make up caked ass?"

Jonathan Jones

Thanks for the answer Eric.

Like everyone else, I recognize that this is more a political ploy than a real threat of an interesting lawsuit. But I'm intrigued by the idea that being called an atheist, or perhaps accepting money from atheist groups, could be defamatory.

I grabbed on to libel per se because that's what the attorneys claimed happened to Hagan in the cease and desist letter.

Boyce v. Cooper is really still going Sam? I had no idea.

Joe Killian

Deac -- off sides, man.

Bob Dole had to have his prostate removed.

Tony Wilkins

DeacSteve, you're a stupid ass.

Back to the post-what exactly is false in the ad?


Jonathan, I believe that case is still in the trial court- at least that was the word back in April.

The Dole ad does nothing but raise the question of who Hagan is associating with. For some reason, people on the Left think those questions are unfair. Obama is running the same strategy. Why do they get so mad when these ties are uncovered? They attack the person for raising the question instead of explaining why the association exists in the first place. As long as Democratic candidates continue to associate with people who are out of the mainstream of American thought, they will continue to be called on it. If they don't want to be called on it, then they should stop associating with these fringe groups.


"That ol' Jesse Helms lovin', white hands commercial makin' Carter Wrenn..."

Is that true? Carter Wrenn made that ad?


"Back to the post-what exactly is false in the ad?"

You are too smart not to know, Tony. Surely you recognize the mendacity in female voice overs saying "There is no God," while a picture of Kay Hagan is on the screen. So, please don't tell me you come down on the side of "if our voters are too dumb to notice..."



Although I've asked three times in another thread, you haven't answered yet.

"You keep insisting Obama is not black. I'm not sure what point you are trying to make, but I am curious, when do you recognize someone as black? When they refer to themselves that way or do you have your own criteria? If the latter, please share."


"That ol' Jesse Helms lovin', white hands commercial makin' Carter Wrenn..." -- Spag

Is that true? Carter Wrenn made that ad?

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