Radio and Internet host Glenn Beck is being sued by a Boston Marathon bombing victim for alleged defamation.
Abdulrahman Alharbi, 20, a student from Saudi Arabia, filed a lawsuit against Beck, who on his radio show called Alharbi the "money man" behind the attacks. Alharbi was injured in the bombings, but was quickly cleared of wrongdoing and was never named as a suspect, according to The Washington Post.
What will Alharbi have to prove in order to make Glenn Beck pay for his words?
The elements of defamation vary by state. With Alharbi living in Massachusetts, Glenn Beck in Texas, and corporate entities incorporated in Delaware, it's not exactly clear which state's defamation law will be applied to the case. (That could potentially be a point of contention as the case proceeds.) But as Alharbi filed his lawsuit in federal court in Boston, where the bombings took place, there's a good chance that Massachusetts law will apply.
Under Massachusetts' defamation law, Alharbi must prove that:
- The statement was defamatory (i.e., it holds Alharbi up to "contempt, hatred, scorn, or ridicule" or impairs his standing in the community);
- The statement was made to at least one other person besides Alharbi;
- He suffered damages; and
- If the statement was of public concern, that it was defamatory and false.
The Case Against Beck
For Alharbi's lawsuit, the first two elements seem to be easy to prove: Beck's accusation that Alharbi was a "proven terrorist" who bankrolled the bombing was broadcast to his listeners and triggered hatred in the form of threatening messages "accusing [Alharbi] of being a murderer, child killer and terrorist," according to the lawsuit.
Further, as police determined Alharbi was not involved in the plot, Beck's statements were clearly false.
But what about damages? While the suit doesn't ask for a specific dollar amount, a court could potentially consider the hateful messages Alharbi received because of Beck's statements in assessing damages. That's what happened in a 2007 Massachusetts case involving defamation by a newspaper.
Alharbi's Glenn Beck lawsuit was filed March 28. Once Beck is properly served with the lawsuit (if he hasn't been already), he'll have to respond within a certain time frame; for federal civil lawsuits, that's typically 21 days.