BOSTON (CN) – Filmmaker Michael Moore did not defame a former U.S. Army sergeant by using a video clip of the ex-soldier’s interview on “NBC Nightly News” in the anti-war documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” without permission, the 1st Circuit ruled.
Former Sgt. Peter J. Damon lost his arms when a tire from a Black Hawk helicopter exploded while Damon performed maintenance work on the aircraft in Balad, Iraq.
Damon was flown to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he was treated with a new pain blocker. While waiting for surgery, an anesthesiologist asked him to do an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams. He agreed and appeared in the NBC clip for about 30 seconds, while “heavily sedated,” talking about how “the pain is like my hands are being crushed in a vise.”
Damon claimed Moore took the clip out of context and used it as an example of how the Bush undermined the troops by proposing pay cuts for combat soldiers, opposing a boost in veteran health-care benefits, supporting the closing of veterans hospitals and trying to double the cost of prescription drugs for veterans.
“Fahrenheit 9/11” denounced Bush and the war effort by, among other things, “attacking the credibility of the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces about the justification for the war, its cost and consequences,” Damon claimed. He said Moore’s film brands him as a supporter of the documentary’s agenda.
But the federal appeals court concluded that, after “stepping back from Damon’s segment and viewing the documentary as a whole,” a reasonable viewer could not construe Damon’s clip as supporting Moore’s message.
“While we appreciate Damon’s anger and frustration over appearing without his consent in a documentary that stands in direct contrast to his own personal and political beliefs, we conclude that his appearance in the documentary is not reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning,” Judge Delgado-Colón wrote.
The court said it need not reach the First Amendment implications of the case, because the claim fails as a matter of state law.