UPDATE: Welp folks, it looks like the final score is MTV 1, Corey Clark, 0. Viacom emerged victorious in this celebrity defamation lawsuit because the judge ruled that Viacom and its representatives spoke the truth about Clark — and as such an act of defamation was not committed.
Remember Corey Clark? Season 2 American Idol contestant? He was the guy who was disqualified for not telling producers about a few unresolved legal issues. Clark was also was the crooner who insisted that he and then judge, Paula Abdul, shared more than just a mentor/mentee relationship. Corey has been out of the national spotlight for nearly a decade, but last week he came roaring back after announcing a $40 million defamation lawsuit against Viacom, MTV and on-air personality, Jim Cantiello.
Why Is Corey Clark Suing For Defamation?
Why defamation? Clark feels his reputation and earning potential were irreparably damaged by the defendants. His past legal problems involved allegations of assault against his sister, but the charges were eventually dropped. MTV personality, Jim Cantiello, however, cared little about the dismissal and lambasted the ousted Idol on his blog between 2007 and 2011.
According to the lawsuit, Clark claims Cantiello urged readers to boycott his music, plus called him an “alleged sister-beater” and “degenerate” even after the charges were dropped. As such, Clark is asking for around $40 million and accuses the media outlet of “abusing the constitutional privileges of ‘freedom of the press’ … with the intent to permanently impair …state property rights and decimate his mental well-being.”
Will Corey Clark Win His Defamation Lawsuit Against Viacom and MTV?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read the actual filing yet, so I’m basing my win-lose analysis solely on what has been reported widely in the press. And to be honest, I think Clark may have a case here. That being said, he may be asking for too much. (But hey, that’s the point sometimes, so as to entice your adversary into a settlement.)
But let’s put the monetary aspect to the side for a moment and just examine the facts of whether Corey has a quality defamation claim or not.
The first thing the judge will consider is whether or not Clark is a “public figure” or “private citizen.” My bet is that his appearance on Idol, and his desire to become a known music entity, puts him squarely in the “public figure” category. As such, Clark will have to prove that the defendants acted with actual malice – meaning they knowing lied, or acted with reckless disregard for the truth (i.e., they didn’t do much fact checking before reporting).
Now, here’s where reading the actual lawsuit would probably help. If Cantinello did not make mention on every blog post about Clark that the singer was cleared of the charges, then Clark’s lawyers could certainly argue “defamation by omission” – and each blog post without the disclaimer would constitute one act of defamation. If Cantinello did point out in every Clark-centric post that he was cleared of charges, then Corey may not have a leg to stand on.
If Corey’s team is trying to argue that the use of the word “degenerate” by Cantinello constitutes defamation, they may have a tough time. Calling someone a “jerk” or “degenerate” in most cases does not qualify as slander or libel in the United States, as it’s an opinion.
The idea that Cantinello urged his readers to “boycott” Clark’s music leaves the door wide open for Clark’s attorneys to argue “actual damage” – the question then becomes if Clark’s records would have sold better if Cantaniello hadn’t trashed him. And you know what, they very well may have. Clark’s publicity mainly centered around his disqualification from “Idol” due to these charges. If an entity continues to “broadcast” those charges, even though Clark was cleared, then it really is a clear-cut case of defamation and Clark very well may emerge victorious. Even if the Viacom/MTV legal team argues that Clark had “no sales” prior to this incident, in an attempt to mitigate, Clark’s lawyers could simply say that he was at the beginning of his career, “Idol” was the platform, and then point to Idol successes like Carrie Underwood or Clay Aiken as examples of what could have been.