Legal Experts Say Rittenhouse’s Acquittal Could Spark Series of Defamation Suits
Legal experts believe Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal could put him in a position to launch a series of defamation lawsuits against media outlets and pundits who labeled him a “white supremacist” after he fatally shot two men and injured another in self-defense during a chaotic riot in Kenosha, Wisc., last year.
“There is no question he suffered reputation damage,” said reputations and communications specialist Michael Toebe.
According to the Washington Examiner, a guest on MSNBC likened Rittenhouse to a “school shooter” during a Sept. 1, 2020 broadcast. That same day, another contributor said he’s “arguably a domestic terrorist.” Earlier this month, journalist Tariq Nasheed referred to him as a “suspected white supremacist.”
However, Kentucky-based attorney Todd McMurtry said that even referring to Rittenhouse as a “vigalante” could be an issue for media outlets.
“A vigilante, per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is ‘a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress or punish crimes summarily.’ That’s not what he was doing,” McMurtry said. “So it’s a statement and arguably made negligently. To call someone a vigilante is defamatory, and so I think that could be actionable.”
McMurtry represented former Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, who settled defamation suits against the Washington Post and CNN over coverage of his encounter with a Native American man at the 2019 March for Life rally in Washington, D.C.
“The parallels between me and Kyle Rittenhouse are impossible not to draw,” Sandmann wrote in a recent op-ed for the Daily Mail.
Toebe noted the statute of limitations for defamation claims, saying that any statement made about him when he was 17 would no longer be actionable after turning 19.