Libel Payout Probably Justified

I’m no fan of the law of defamation: which is significantly abused by all those who can’t take a bit of criticism: and in particular, by self-perjuring politicians, eastern European plutocrats, Middle Eastern funders of terrorism, Nigerian fraudsters, and A-Level retakes tutors.

But my sympathies are strongly with Will Smith, who accepted an apology and a payout in the High Court this morning:

World Entertainment News Network (WENN) published the article, titled “Smith: Hitler Was A Good Person”, in December.

His solicitor, Rachel Atkins, told London’s High Court the article was “deeply distressing” to Smith and had caused him “acute embarrassment”.

Ms Atkins said the star, who was not in court, was “a highly-respected actor of international repute and a man of complete integrity”.

She said the I Am Legend star believed Hitler to be “a vile and heinous man”.

“The article alleged that the claimant had declared in an interview that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was a good person,” she said.

“The allegation is false and without any foundation.

“It wholly misrepresents the claimant’s actual words, given in an interview to the Daily Record, a Scottish newspaper and website.”

What Will Smith actually said was this:

“Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today.’ I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good.”‘

The quote was preceded by the writer’s observation: “Remarkably, Will believes everyone is basically good.”

It is absolutely clear that Will Smith was not saying that Hitler, or even everybody, is “basically good”. Rather, what he’s saying is that most people – including those as wicked as Hitler – think that they’re acting for the best, and don’t think of themselves as evil. This is a statement about the way that people perceive themselves, and justify their actions: not their intrinsic goodness.

But isn’t this bit of the story just pathetic. Apparently, the Anti-Defamation League was contacted in the wake of the whole affair, and this was their response:

“We welcome and accept Will Smith’s statement that Hitler was a ‘vicious killer’ and that he did not mean for his remarks about the Nazi leader to be mistaken as praise,” Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement.

Smith “took immediate steps to clarify his words” and condemn Hitler, Foxman said.

Foxman said words “can be twisted by those with hate and bigotry in their hearts.”

“This is why all celebrities bear a special responsibility to weigh their words carefully, and an obligation to speak out against racism and bigotry whenever even a whiff of it appears, as Will Smith has done in this instance,” he said.

Wouldn’t it have been better to say:

1. “Oh come off it. What idiot thought Will Smith was praising Hitler as a good person in the first place? Do you have problems with comprehending basic English? ”

2. “Anyhow, why are you asking me for my view? This is WILL SMITH for goodness sake, not Louis Farrakhan or David Duke. Go talk to somebody who knows about showbiz”