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Motorcycle daredevil cannot sue sports network over "pimp" claim

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    News Media Update         NINTH CIRCUIT         Libel    

Motorcycle daredevil cannot sue sports network over “pimp” claim

  • Evel Knievel has no valid defamation claim against ESPN over a photograph and caption published on a Web site, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Jan. 5, 2005 — Famed motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel cannot sue ESPN for defamation over a Web-published photograph of him and two woman with the caption “Evel Knievel proves that you’re never too old to be a pimp,” a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

In a decision centering on meaning of the word “pimp,” the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled 2-1 that the caption and a photo of Knievel with his arms around his wife, Krystal, and another unidentified young woman were not defamatory when viewed in the context of an irreverent web site.

The Knievels argued that the photo and caption, which were posted on the ESPN extreme sports Web site for six days in 2001, defamed them and that the Montana constitution entitled them to jury trial against ESPN for libel. The case was moved to U.S. district court.

In upholding the district court’s dismissal of the case, Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote: “Although the word ‘pimp’ may be reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning when read in isolation, we agree with the district court’s assessment that ‘the term loses its meaning when considered in the context presented here.”

“The web pages immediately preceding and following the Knievel photo use slang words such as ‘hardcore’ and ‘scoping’ and slang phrases such as ‘throwing down a pose,’ ‘put a few back’ and ‘hottie of the year,’ none of which were intended to be interpreted literally. … any reasonable viewer would have interpreted the word ‘pimp’ in the same loose, figurative sense as well,” Tashima wrote.

In dissent, Judge Carlos T. Bea wrote that a reasonable reader could interpret the caption to imply that Knievel is a pimp and his wife and the other woman with him were prostitutes.

Courts “have held that ‘words charged to be defamatory are to be taken in their natural meaning and that the courts will not strain to interpret them in their mildest and most inoffensive sense to hold them nonlibelous'” Bea wrote, quoting from a 1947 New York decision.

Bea, who cited definitions of the word “pimp” from four dictionaries including the “Oxford English Dictionary,” began his dissent quoting Shakespeare’s Iago in “Othello”: “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls.”

Knievel, informed by Reuters of the decision, told the news service: “They disregarded the goddamn law and they ought to be discharged, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. They ruled against the law. What good is law in the United States of America if five or six goddamn bimbos are going to rule against it?”

Knievel will ask his lawyer to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, he told Reuters.

(Knievel v. ESPN; Media counsel: Nathan Siegel, Washington, D.C.) KM

© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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