Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN chief international anchor, apologized live on air on May 22 to Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife, Lucy Dee, and two of his daughters—Maia, 20, and Rina, 15—were shot and killed in early April after terrorists shot at them while driving through the Jordan Valley.
Last week, Amanpour referred to the incident as a “shootout” rather than a targeted “shooting.” The news anchor said she “misspoke” and conveyed her apology to Dee.
Dee has said that he is considering suing CNN for $1.3 billion. Alan Dershowitz, attorney and emeritus professor at Harvard Law School, confirmed to JNS that he has been retained to represent Dee on a pro bono basis.
Dershowitz told JNS that Dee called and asked him to look into a potential lawsuit. “I think what Christiane Amanpour did was beneath contempt. I also don’t think it was a slip or an accident,” Dershowitz said. “I think it’s part of a long pattern of equating terrorists and their victims morally.”
The attorney added that he and the rabbi are “exploring various options.” He also answered several questions from JNS.
Responses have been lightly edited for style.
Q: You’re still considering a lawsuit, even though she’s apologized?
A: Oh, yes. The apology doesn’t negate the lawsuit. The apology was a very grudging apology. Basically, she first tried to apologize privately, but when he wouldn’t accept the apology privately, she was essentially forced to make this grudging apology on the air.
That may have some impact on damages, but it certainly doesn’t have any legal impact. What she said was defamatory. The rabbi and his family are not public figures. So there’s no malice requirement. The only requirement is that she said something that was false. And it was false. That’s defamation.
It also caused enormous emotional harm. There are various questions that arise: Where to bring a lawsuit? Who is the plaintiff in the lawsuit? What is the precise nature of the legal claim? Those are all issues that are being explored.
Q: Do you think there is a good chance of CNN paying for this?
A: I would hope there’s a good chance to hold CNN accountable. The one thing that I would look forward to is an opportunity to cross-examine Christiane Amanpour about her long history of making mistakes only in one direction.
I’ve issued a challenge to her. I challenge her to point me to one mistake she’s ever made about the Middle East which favors Israel.
You’d think if there were a bunch of mistakes, one of them would favor Israel. But all of her mistakes, as far as I can tell, all the ones I’ve heard always go the other way.
Q: Is a lawsuit what it’s going to take to persuade her?
A: I don’t know. Let’s see. CNN has said they’re going to be changing their policies.
I’m also involved in a lawsuit with CNN about my speech in the Senate. I know CAMERA has been doing a lot of research on CNN, and I’ve seen some of it. It’s devastating. It’s so biased, and this was one of the worst. It fits a pattern. It’s not isolated.
Q: What are some of the other things that CNN has done that fit this pattern?
A: The way they reported on the shooting of that journalist (the late Shireen Abu Akleh, of Al Jazeera). Just generally the way they’ve reported, it’s always an “exchange of fire.” That’s a pattern.
When rockets are fired from Gaza, CNN portrays it as: “It’s a back and forth.” Even if the rockets were fired (at Israel) without any provocation from Israel. When we do the research for cross-examination, we’ll come up with every single instance of that kind of reporting. But at the moment, there’s enough for me to say we ought to be looking into this and looking hard.
Q: Do you think there is a different climate here after the big Fox News settlement?
A: Yes. I think it is changing. I think the Supreme Court is giving a good, hard look at some of its precedents. I think the widespread distrust of the media and the bias of the media has permeated common views of ordinary people.
I think it’s a good time. And we’ll have to make the case. There are lots of places where this can be brought. It can be brought in Israel. It can be brought in England. It can be brought in the United States. It can be brought in almost any place.
CNN is worldwide, and she’s an international correspondent. So what she said was seen all over the world.
Q: What do you think CNN or Amanpour should have done differently following the statement in order to avoid a lawsuit?
A: They should have come out with a profuse apology and talked about how they’re going to look into how this happened. And why CNN didn’t immediately catch it, and why it took a threat of a lawsuit to generate an apology.
They could have done a lot more.