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Technology 4 Lives

“‘Wacky’ does not a successful libel lawsuit make.”

From the Wikimedia Commons

Did the astronauts of Apollo 17 take this photo, or was it Photoshopped using 1972-era technology? (Hint: the first option is correct.)

From the annals of silly lawsuit history comes the case of Bill Kaysing versus Jim Lovell, circa 1997. A handy timeline of the case is here.

You may Know Jim Lovell as the commander of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission, who was later played by Tom Hanks in the movie of the same name.

Bill Kaysing was a purveyor of moon hoax theories, and is often credited as starting the moon landing conspiracy movement. He was the author of books like We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.

In 1996, after an encounter with Kaysing and some correspondence, Lovell was quoted in an article by Rafer Guzmán in Metro, a weekly Silicon Valley-area newspaper:

Speaking from his office in Illinois, Lovell said of Kaysing: “The guy is wacky. His position makes me feel angry. We spent a lot of time getting ready to go to the moon. We spent a lot of money, we took great risks, and it’s something everybody in this country should be proud of. His problem is, he saw that movie Capricorn One and now he thinks that’s really the way it goes.”

Eager to defend his legacy of bravely standing up to mountains of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, sued Lovell for libel on August 29, 1996, specifically for calling him “wacky.”

Keep in mind that truth is a defense to defamation.

Kaysing, who wrote a book called We Never Went to the Moon, filed what amounts to a nuisance suit against the astronaut last year following a Metro article in which Lovell called the writer “wacky.” Legal experts who were contacted agree that calling someone “wacky” does not a successful libel suit make. If anything, Kaysing’s wild accusation that Lovell is a liar who participated in a government conspiracy to fool the public is more harsh than being called wacky. (Source)

I don’t see how one can argue that calling a person “wacky” is anything other than a statement of opinion. I also don’t see how it is any worse than what Kaysing said about Lovell in the same article:

Kaysing considers Lovell almost a comedian. “He’s essentially a sort of comic Manchurian Candidate,” he says. “He’s been either brainwashed, hypnotized, programmed or whatever to present this spurious story of having gone to the moon.”

Is it defamatory to say someone has been brainwashed? Not particularly. Nor is it defamatory to call someone “wacky.” Fortunately a judge agreed and dismissed the suit on September 25, 1997.

It makes for a fun example of the limits of using the courts to fix your public image. If someone says you are wacky, demonstrate how they are wrong (if you can), or determine if you really are wacky and try to fix it. If you are a conspiracy theorist, public opprobrium from an establishment figure like an astronaut ought to boost your image among the conspiracy-minded. Unless someone has said something blatantly and demonstrably false that has harmed you, don’t ask the courts to fix it for you. Even then, it’s a tough row to hoe.

Bill Kaysing passed away in 2005. Since a deceased person has no cause of action for defamation, let me just say this: the guy was wacky. Wacky, wacky, wacky. He was also absurd, bugged out, crazy, daft, deranged, dotty, foolish, harebrained, idiotic, loony, nutty, odd, and silly. (Yes, I borrowed Eric Turkewitz’s thesaurus).

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