A federal appeals court has ruled that filmmaker Michael Moore did not defame an Iraq War veteran when Moore used a clip from a TV interview without his permission in “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
Army Sgt. Peter Damon, who lost his arms when a tire on a Black Hawk helicopter exploded while he and another reservist were servicing it, claimed he was humiliated and emotionally distressed after Moore included the clip in Moore’s 2004 documentary criticizing the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.
But the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal judge’s decision to dismiss Damon’s lawsuit against Moore.
Moore said the unanimous decision was total vindication, and noted the three-judge panel included two judges appointed by President Bush. Moore said years of failed lawsuits against his films show his movies are accurate.
“I make movies that point out larger truths ... about what’s happening in this country and the world in which we live, and I have to then suffer through an onslaught of attack,” Moore said. “At some point, I’m wondering, when do I get to catch a break?”
In the interview, Damon was asked about a new painkiller the military was using on wounded veterans. He claimed the way Moore used the clip makes him appear to “voice a complaint about the war effort” when he was actually complaining about “the excruciating type of pain” that comes with the injury he suffered.
Damon is shown shortly after a congressman, Jim McDermott, speaks about the Bush administration and says, “You know, they say they’re not leaving any veterans behind, but they’re leaving all kinds of veterans behind.”
Damon said Moore’s positioning of the clip just after the congressman’s comments makes him appear as if he feels like he was “left behind” by the Bush administration and the military.
Moore said Damon’s words in the clip speak for themselves.
“I did not defame this soldier and would not,” Moore said. “My heart goes out to him. My prayers are with him and with all soldiers who have suffered from this war. That was the point of the film.”
Judge Aida Delgado-Colon said that while Damon’s anger and frustration were understandable, the clip could not reasonably be construed as defamatory under state law.
“There is no reason to believe that a reasonable member of the military or veteran community would conclude that Damon’s appearance in the documentary conveyed a defamatory meaning, and therefore lowered his reputation or subjected him to scorn, hatred, ridicule or contempt in that community,” according to the court’s March 21 ruling.
Damon’s lawyer, Philip Moran, said he is considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal.
Damon is a member of the National Guard and sued for defamation after members of his unit criticized him for appearing in Moore’s movie, Moran said.
“He totally disagrees with the tenor of Michael Moore’s position,” Moran said. “He just felt he never should have been in the movie without his permission.”
Moran said Damon believes the Iraq war is a “just war.”