11:28am PT by Eriq Gardner
Tabloid Argues Blake Shelton's "Drunk" Tweets Make Him Libel Proof
Bauer Publishing Company, the publisher of In Touch Weekly, is demanding an end to Blake Shelton's defamation lawsuit by pointing to a series of tweets where the country music superstar and The Voice coach tagged himself as "drunk."
Shelton is suing over a Sept. 28, 2015, cover story headlined, "The Real Story: REHAB for Blake," which came after his split with singer Miranda Lambert. In Touch previously ran a story about "cheating allegations," and upon a second story, Shelton filed a complaint in California federal court in October "to set the record straight — he is not in rehab, his 'close circle' is not trying to seek an intervention, and he is, in fact, hard at work on The Voice and other projects."
On Friday, Bauer's attorneys asserted that Shelton's lawsuit amounted to interference with its First Amendment rights and that Shelton had no probability of prevailing.
"Shelton ignores that he has staked his reputation on heavy drinking: he tweets more than 15 million Twitter followers almost daily with messages crowing about how much he drinks and is famous for his signature Twitter tagline, 'Drunk,'" states a motion to strike. "Shelton also ignores the years of press — which went unchallenged by any legal claims — documenting how his ex-wife, among others, were so upset by his alcohol consumption that she told him to go to rehab. By this action, Shelton attempts to walk back a public image he created. Yet the law does not allow for selective amnesia."
Shelton's lawsuit says that In Touch "cherry-picked" eight tweets over the course of 10 months to paint a picture of him as unhinged, a man at "rock bottom," but the defendant says there's much more in the social media well.
Bauer says that Shelton "has amassed nearly 50 pages of tweets related to excessive alcohol consumption," and is so well known for drunken tweets that he once told CNN, "I drink alcohol and always will until I die and I don't care if you like it or not."
The media company also argues that the article in question was clear that he didn't go to rehab, that he wouldn't listen to those who wanted him there and that he was throwing himself into the new season of The Voice, NBC's reality competition show.
"Despite Shelton’s protestations, the Article and Shelton are clearly in total agreement," says Bauer in its court filing. "Even assuming arguendo that the headline could be read as stating Shelton went to rehab, there is nothing inherently defamatory about electing to seek treatment for drinking. The only possible defamatory predicate is that rehab implies that Shelton has drinking issues — a fact that is irrefutably true based on his own richly cultivated reputation."
The defendant, represented by Alonzo Wickers and Elizabeth McNamara at Davis Wright Tremaine, frames its story as "substantially true," and giving the judge another out, argues Shelton is libel-proof when it comes to drinking. According to the motion, "Not only has he failed to challenge the innumerable reports about his drinking prior to the Article, but via his endless tweets about his drinking, with 'Drunk' as his signature tagline, he publicly prides himself on drunkenness."
Separately, Bauer says that In Touch had sources who confirmed the musician was being urged by friends and colleagues to seek help, that the publication believed the article to be absolutely true, and thus, Shelton can't show actual malice as he must to win a defamation lawsuit.
Shelton, represented by attorney Larry Stein at Liner, is seeking at least $1 million for both libel and invasion of privacy, plus a restraining order. The motion to strike is scheduled to be heard by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder on March 28.