Kyle Rittenhouse could have a defamation lawsuit after media called him racist murderer: Legal experts


Multiple media outlets, liberal pundits and Democratic politicians declared Kyle Rittenhouse a murderer and White supremacist, before and after he was acquitted of all charges, leading many to believe the 18-year-old could have a case for defamation lawsuits. 

“It’s just breathtaking, some of the things being said, being written, I can understand in the initial shock over what happened and there is two people dead and riots in the streets happening in Kenosha back last year, people perhaps getting a few things wrong, but … the misinformation continues to flow to this day,” Guy Benson said Monday on “Outnumbered.” 

“I saw example after example over the weekend of news articles from actual news organizations, supposedly with lawyers of editorial oversight, getting basic facts wrong about the case, about the trial, about the Jacob Blake police shooting from last summer that was sort of the triggering event of the rioting,” Benson continued. “Details, of course, matter … we have larger truths being spewed all over the place that are, in fact, not truths at all. Falsehoods.” 

The media have often botched the events in Kenosha and declared Kyle Rittenhouse a "murderous" guilty man after he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. (Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool)

The media have often botched the events in Kenosha and declared Kyle Rittenhouse a “murderous” guilty man after he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. (Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool)
(Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool)

A jury found Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense at the Kenosha riots in August 2020 when he shot and killed two men, Joseph Rosenbaum, and Anthony Huber, and injured a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz. The 18-year-old was found not guilty on all five charges against him last Friday, including first-degree reckless homicide, two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.

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Cornell Law school professor William A. Jacobson told Fox News Digital that whether Rittenhouse has a defamation claim or not will turn on the specific words used against him.

“Generalized name-calling or offensive opinions will not suffice, nor will mere sloppiness or reliance on inaccurate media reports. For this purpose, at least, Rittenhouse was a public figure involved in a public controversy, and only specific false factual assertions harmful to his reputation that were known to be untrue or in reckless disregard of the truth even potentially give rise to a claim,” Jacobson said. 

MSNBC host Tiffany Cross said racists in Congress “freely and celebrate this little murderous White supremacist,” an MSNBC guest dismissed the verdict as “what White people vote for” and Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump provided “analysis” in a piece titled, “Rittenhouse was acquitted, not validated.”

Outlets have also inaccurately reported Rittenhouse traveled across state lines with a gun and incorrectly reported Blake was killed by police. 

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A CNN guest credited the acquittal to the “infantilization” of Rittenhouse because of his young age and suggested White privilege was also a factor in the outcome. 

Before the verdict, left-wing coverage of the case was just as vitriolic. MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson compared Rittenhouse to a “school shooter,” while MSNBC’s John Heilemann said he is “arguably a domestic terrorist.” MSNBC’s Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace referred to him as a “vigilante,” and Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., used the “White supremacist” term when talking about Rittenhouse during an appearance on CNN in March. President Biden lumped Rittenhouse in with White supremacists in a video shared last year on Twitter. 

“The View” co-host Sunny Hostin said Rittenhouse murdered two people, and fellow co-host Whoopi Goldberg reiterated that sentiment on Monday while discussing his acquittal. Far-left “Young Turks” host Cenk Uygur called him “deeply racist” and said he “murdered a couple of people.”

“A white, Trump-supporting, MAGA-loving Blue Lives Matter social media partisan, 17 years old, picks up a gun, drives from one state to another with the intent to shoot people,” Heilemann said of Rittenhouse last year, again repeating the falsehood about him crossing a state line armed.

“The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton” show ran a montage of audio of media attacks on Rittenhouse, with Travis calling it “shameful.”

“Not a single person saying that feels the least bit of shame because they don’t actually go on air to tell people the truth,” Sexton said.

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When asked specifically if the term “White supremacist” is enough for Rittenhouse to move forward with defamation claims, Jacobson said there isn’t a “simple” answer to a complicated situation. 

“Whether calling someone a ‘white supremacist’ is legally actionable will depend on whether a specific state’s law considers it an opinion, in which case it would be protected speech, or a statement of fact, in which case it could be actionable if knowingly false,” Jacobson said. 

The verdict infuriated the liberal media, which has continued one-sided coverage of Rittenhouse despite the acquittal. The Daily Beast downplayed Rittenhouse’s self-defense argument, writing, “He was found not guilty of all charges despite video evidence showing he killed people.”

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MSNBC, which was banned from the courtroom after it was accused of having one of its journalists following the jury’s bus, published an opinion piece headlined, “Kyle Rittenhouse trial was designed to protect white conservatives who kill.”

NBC News anchor Lester Holt suggested Rittenhouse was able to “provoke” a violent situation and then successfully claim self-defense in the court of law.  NBC anchor Maria Shriver even tweeted that it was “stunning” the jury let Rittenhouse walk and MSNBC’s Reid compared Rittenhouse to “slave catchers,” claiming both got away with inciting violence in the name of protecting property.

“I am sitting here listening to these clips and I’m just shaking my head,” “MediaBuzz” host Howie Kurtz said Monday after a montage of recent Rittenhouse coverage. 

“As bad as the coverage was, when Kyle Rittenhouse was being smeared and vilified before the verdict … it is far worse now,” Kurtz said. “A jury found that he is an innocent man, they are clinging to their narrative in the face of lots of evidence presented at the trial that led to an acquittal on all counts.” 

Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery feels Rittenhouse will eventually be compensated for the way he was portrayed. 

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“His reputation has been destroyed throughout this entire thing with facts that have been entirely made up. When you call someone a White supremacist, over and over and over again, you are doing so much reputational damage, especially to someone who is headed to college, that I believe there will be compensation that follows this,” Kennedy said on “Outnumbered.” 

Last week, former Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, who famously settled a defamation suit against CNN, encouraged Rittenhouse to follow in his footsteps. 

“The parallels between me and Kyle Rittenhouse are impossible not to draw,” Sandmann wrote in a column for the Daily Mail in which he directly reached out to lend support. “The way the media has treated you is terrible, and you don’t have to face it alone.”

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In January 2020, CNN settled a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit filed by Sandmann – who became known as the “Covington kid” – over the liberal network’s botched coverage of a viral confrontation with a Native American elder that had portrayed the Kentucky teen as the aggressor.

“The attacks on Kyle came from the national news media, just as they came for me. They came quickly, without hesitation, because Kyle was an easy target that they could paint in the way they wanted to,” Sandmann wrote. “If Kyle is prepared to take on another burden in his early life, with the acceptance that it might result in nothing … give it a shot and hold the media accountable.”

Attorney and “Outnumbered” co-host Emily Compagno thinks Rittenhouse could have a defamation case on his hands.

“I want to draw a couple distinctions for viewers because we’re hearing a lot of legal analysis on the inevitable success, likely, of his defamation suits,” she said. “The first thing is that Nicholas Sandmann’s success was based on the lie and the implication of such that he blocked the activist. It’s not that he was called a racist.”

Compagno then explained that conservatives have looked to do away with the malice standard, which is “hard to overcome” because it blurs the line of free speech.

“There is a public figure definition and a limited public figure definition, and that is sort of a way that, here, Kyle Rittenhouse, as plaintiff in his regard, will argue that he’s limited which means he didn’t voluntary thrust himself into the vortex of public conversation,” she said. “It just occurred because of national media exposure.”

Compagno said “courts really do protect opinion, especially in public controversies” like the one Rittenhouse has been consumed with. 

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“There is an [erring] on the side of First Amendment opinions but to the point, if it destroys your employability, if it destroys your educational opportunities, if there is quantifiable damages, absolutely he will be successful,” Compagno said. 

Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett feels Rittenhouse has a case against “the liberal mob and ignorant members of the media” who didn’t bother to examine evidence before making judgements. 

“Rittenhouse will forever be tainted by the false accusations leveled against him. He should now sue all of those who slandered him, including a guy by the name of Joe Biden who defamed him as a White supremacist,” Jarrett wrote in a Fox News Digital opinion piece. 

Fox News’ Cortney O’Brien and David Rutz contributed to this report. 

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