“A Matter Of Public Concern”: Court Dismisses Lawsuit Of Former Rep. Katie Hill Against The Daily Mail

I previously wrote about the defamation claims filed by former Rep. Katie Hill has lost a lawsuit against her husband and a variety of other people, including the Daily Mail for reporting on her sex scandal involving a former aide.  I stated that the legal basis for the lawsuit against the media was highly dubious and that the underlying stories were protected under the First Amendment as matters of public interest. As expected, the case against the Daily Mail was thrown out by Los Angeles Judge Yolanda Orozco on First Amendment grounds.

In 2019, former Hill resigned from Congress after the disclosure of sexual relations with a staff member.  The scandal involved 22-year-old staffer Morgan Desjardins who had a three-way relationship Hill and her then-husband Kenny Heslep that began shortly after she started working for Hill in 2017. The affair reportedly ended in the summer of 2019.

Ordinarily, the media and various public interest groups would have been outraged and unrelenting in their “MeToo” coverage, particularly with a young staffer recently out of college. In the case of Hill, however, media outlets like MSNBC picked up on Hill’s claim that she was subjected to   a “double standard” and a “misogynistic culture.”

As I stated in the earlier column:

It is claim against the media parties that concerns me the most in this action. The 41-page lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress and violation of state law for distribution of intimate personal material without Hill’s consent, against defendants Salem Media Group Inc., Mail Media, Inc., writer Jennifer Van Laar (the deputy managing editor of Redstate.com), and Joseph Messina, the host of “The Real Side” Radio Show, as well as other unnamed individuals.  Van Laar’s work also appeared in the Daily Mail (which is named as a defendant).

Not only did the lawsuit threaten core media protections, but advanced (with the help of sympathetic media at CNN and MSNBC) a false narrative of Hill as a victim.  It was astonishing to watch media support a politician claiming a double standard in being forced to resign — seeking an accommodation that was wisely denied to male colleagues in past scandals. Various male politicians from Sen. Bob Packwood to Rep. Trent Franks have resigned under such scandals. Sen. Al Franken resigned for acts that did not involve an actual sexual affair. Hill abused her position of power but somehow converted that abuse into a women’s rights issue. Hill sold that narrative and is now bizarrely treated by many as a victim.

That treatment stopped when she tried to make these arguments in court against the media. Hill was challenging the publishing of photos that included a picture of Hill naked holding a bong emblazoned with a skull and crossbones and a photo showing a tattoo of an Iron Cross resembling a Nazi symbol on her bikini line.

In dismissing the claims against the Daily Mail, Orozco ruled that

“the intimate images published by Defendant spoke to Plaintiff’s character and qualifications for her position, as they allegedly depicted Plaintiff with a campaign staffer whom she was alleged to have had a sexual affair with and appeared to show Plaintiff using a then-illegal drug and displaying a tattoo that was controversial because it resembled a white supremacy symbol that had become an issue during her congressional campaign.”

The court stated that obvious that such images are clearly related to a core matter of public interest in the scandal:

“Plaintiff’s argument that the images are not a matter of public concern because Defendant could have simply described the images rather than publishing them is unpersuasive, as the fact that information to be gleaned from an image may be disseminated in an alternative manner does not equate to a finding that the image itself is not a matter of public concern.”

There remain claims against RedState and Hill’s ex-husband, Kenneth Heslep.

Notably, the Daily Mail reported on the ruling by republishing the same photos.

This was the correct decision. It is notable however that the Daily Mail benefitted from our defamation standards, which are protective of journalists.  As shown recently in the case involving Meghan Markle, the courts in Great Britain have precious few such protections. It is also notable that two figures lionized by the media on networks like MSNBC have launched frontal attacks on the media and its ability to report on newsworthy controversies.

78 thoughts on ““A Matter Of Public Concern”: Court Dismisses Lawsuit Of Former Rep. Katie Hill Against The Daily Mail”

  1. Only a politician can get caught in bad behavior and then cry victimhood. Regardless of what one thinks about behavior behind closed doors, once it reached the public arena, it is news. Tawdry as it turns out, I fail to see how this could have won. I also do not see a double standard in this case because if this was a man, he would be gone, just ask Al Franken. Maybe better behavior would have served Katie Hill well and she would still be in Congress. But then, asking a politician to act better is a seemingly impossible request.

  2. It’s pretty difficult to argue that it was a violation of privacy to publish those photos, when she’d uploaded them herself to wife swapping sites. In one of her interviews, she had said she thought it was OK because you couldn’t see her face in those.

    Without the photos, her supporters would have claimed it was a lie.

    There is a double standard, indeed. Compare and contrast to how Republican men would have been treated if they’d been caught in a photo with a naked subordinate who later claimed abuse, as well as with a bong. There would have been marches.

    1. Karen, are you seriously claiming that the one that was taken without her knowledge or consent was then uploaded by her? Really?

      Are you seriously claiming that consent in sharing pornographic photos doesn’t matter?

      1. Anonymous:

        Katie Hill was caught lying. She said she never consented to any nude photos being shared. But then she admitted that they actually did upload nude photos to wife swap websites. She also lied about having a sexual relationship with her subordinate, which are against House rules. The photos proved the lie. They also proved she had an Iron Cross tattoo.

        I just think that private areas should have been blurred out. The ones I’ve seen were blurred for a bit of modesty, but it’s my understanding that the uncensored photos are available.

        “Having no plan in place put her at an immediate disadvantage. “You know, honestly, it was one of those things where it was like, Well, I’ll just deny it,” Hill told me. “Morgan is not accusing me of anything. She doesn’t want it to come out any more than I do.” Plenty of politicians lie, but it’s rare for one to tell a reporter it was her game plan.”

        “Not long after exchanging vows, Hill and Heslep entered their first three-person, long-term relationship with a woman they’d met on OkCupid. Heslep had also been posting intimate photos of Hill on various websites, which Hill said she knew about at the time. Her face wasn’t visible, she said, and she wasn’t thinking about any future consequences.”

        On the one hand, Hill admitted to permitting Heslep to post nude photos of her online in order to have sex with other people. On the other, it’s not true that her face was not exposed in these photos. The media obtained copies of these photos which were online.

        Heslep and Hill advertised Hill on sex forums as available for sex with strangers. The media obtained those photos. She wasn’t upset that the photos were posted online to strangers, just that the media found out about it.

        Sometimes people engage in self destructive behavior. They do so publicly, seemingly unable to stop themselves, even though they are afraid of the consequences. It’s only a matter of time before the behavior comes to light.

        It’s like Rob Ford, who was a crack addict while mayor of Toronto.

        1. You didn’t answer my questions. I guess “Are you seriously claiming that consent in sharing pornographic photos doesn’t matter?” is too hard for you to answer.

  3. I amazed people only refer to her sex scandal and fail to mention her alcoholism, which was so bad she suffered bear-blackouts and missed flights. She sat on at least one NatSec committee and was a clear security risk.

    1. I know right? That’s what I thought when i saw the snaps of you rimming that waiter. See how that works?

  4. Meanwhile, the pulmonologist is just crushing the defence in the Chauvin trial today.

    EB

  5. OT…

    WaPo –
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/allen-weisselberg-jennifer-weisselberg-trump-investigation/2021/04/08/53e2cd62-97ec-11eb-a6d0-13d207aadb78_story.html
    “Investigators from the Manhattan DA’s Office, acting on a grand jury subpoena, took possession of financial records Thursday morning from the apartment of Jennifer Weisselberg, the former daughter-in-law of a top Trump Organization officer [CFO Allen Weisselberg].”

    Gee, I wonder whether Trump is hiding financial crimes.

    1. Gee….I wonder why you cannot stay on topic…..Trump is out of Office but apparently still living rent free in your noggin!

      I would have some pity for you but it is after all a self inflicted wound you are doing to yourself.

      1. Yep, it’s certainly not newsworthy that the former President’s company is being investigated for financial crimes. I’m absolutely certain that if Obama were being investigated for any crimes, you’d say to yourself “this isn’t newsworthy at all.”

        I don’t need or want your pity.

        As for being off-topic, that’s why I said “OT” at the top. Lots of people on the right and left post off-topic comments, whether you like it or not. Learn to live with it.

  6. Hill probably watched the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” and thought if it’s was okay for a U.S. Senator, it was okay for her also.

  7. Wow! Turley gets another two-fer: gets to go after a Democrat and MSNBC.

    The photos were either stolen by a hacker or were revenge porn leaked by Hill’s ex. It was wrong to publish them, just like it was wrong for WikiLeaks to publish information stolen from computers by hackers. The information and images do not belong to either Wikileaks or the Daily Mail. This case will be appealed, and I hope the appeals court does the right thing. It’s not a matter of free speech, either, but profiting from theft and invasion of privacy. It’s wrong.

    1. Natacha – wondering if you were aware that there is an interview with Katie Hill in which she admitted that she and her husband had uploaded nude photos of her to a wife swap website.

      I’ve posted that interview before.

      These photos are evidence that she broke the rules and was in a sexual relationship with a subordinate, who later claimed abuse.

  8. Is it a just a sign I am getting older or is Katie Hill an attractive woman? I always thought she was kind of hot. Just saying.

    I have noticed as one gets older you look at women you probably wouldn’t have noticed at 25.

    No comment on her other proclivities.

    antonio

    1. I know what you mean, Antonio. Katie looks like a lovely den mother. As we get older, we appreciate–and desire–women with those qualities more. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving.

      To Mespo’s point, Katie is a Democrat politician. A table dancer would have better morals.

      1. Just to be clear, the right always assumed they had moral supperiority because enough gullible people bought it. They’ve now sailed so far past any delusional claim they might have been able to make — and it happened a long time ago. Seeing you guys trying to trot it out now is just hilarious. And tone deaf. But hey, keep working, one can always try.

        EB

    1. @mespo727272

      I think most guys at one time or another have had an experience with the above described type of women. Can be lots of fun for a short period of time too. Just make sure you don’t get arrested or in an embarrassing situation later. Yeh, I would let Katie Hill in if she knocked on my door at 2 am. Not ashamed to admit it.

      antonio

      1. Antonio:
        “I think most guys at one time or another have had an experience with the above described type of women. Can be lots of fun for a short period of time too.”
        ***************************
        It’s like that old 70s joke comparing those like her to minibikes: they’re fun to ride but you wouldn’t want your friends to see you do it.

    2. Notice how you don’t call her husband a Trash Guy for making the photos public, and you don’t call the Daily Mail and RedState Trash Papers for printing them. I doubt anyone is surprised by your double standards, mespo727272

      1. @anonymous

        Oh please!!! More leftist pearl clutching. Sure there is double standard on how we react to such things and it would not be fair if men and women were inter-changeable but they’re not. And our leftist moral bettors are going to find this out when women are put in infantry combat. Can’t wait to see how the elites are going to get around this one regarding their own family members. Despite the constant virtue signaling, there is no way the upper middle class and above are going to easily subject their daughters to such. Kind of akin to their love of blacks, they do it from afar and without getting their hands dirty.

        I truly despise them and will feel no empathy when their daughters for some reason are unable to compete with male combatants in the next war. Guess it will be the fault of “white supremacists”.

        antonio

          1. @anonymous

            Not a “conservative” of any kind, pearl clutching or otherwise since “conservatives” conserve very little. BTW – you didn’t touch on the part about how the elites are going to exempt their daughters from infantry combat. Is this a secret or do you actually think it is a great idea? Perhaps America’s next military opponent will have a ‘women’s combat’ division to keep things fair.

            antonio

            1. Your comments certainly sound like a conservative, antonio, whether you call yourself one or not, and you’re definitely pearl-clutching.

              I’m sure you’re equally concerned “how the elites are going to exempt their [sons] from infantry combat,” right, antonio?

              I think everyone should have to do 2 years of national service, no exemptions. Could be military, Peace Corps, … But right now there’s no mandatory service for anyone. I bet you knew that, but just couldn’t bring yourself to admit the wrench it throws in your silly argument.

              I served overseas. How about you?

              1. @anonymous

                Sure did! Without getting too specific, let’s just say I served in Europe and the First Gulf War. And yes, since WW II the elites of all stripes have done lots to exempt their sons from infantry combat. This was particularly evident during Vietnam. I do not identify with rightist, corporate elites either.

                Again, I am not a “conservative” of any kind and think the traditional labels of “liberal” and “conservative” mean little in today’s polarized climate. Never refer to myself as either. The real question is are you a nationalist America First supporter or globalist?

                On paper with my background, I should be a liberals wet dream – Hispanic, blue collar background, etc. but I am not. Puts lefties in a real quandary too, they aren’t sure if their supposed to shoot me or salute me. They want to hate me but kind of feel guilty about it. In real, day to day life I never play the ethnic card unless I know I am dealing with a s@@tlib.

                antonio

                1. “[I] think the traditional labels of “liberal” and “conservative” mean little in today’s polarized climate.”

                  No doubt that’s why you frequently refer to “s@@tlibs” but not “s@@tcons,” antonio.

                  “they aren’t sure if their supposed to shoot me or salute me.”

                  Neither. As a liberal, I ignore you a lot of the time and point out the errors in your arguments the rest of the time.

                  1. @anonymous

                    Not sure “s@@coms” would apply to me, not a “conservative” of any kind. Don’t claim to be either. Heritage Foundation and National Review “conservatives”, conserve very little. And let me know when you reply to my comments on IQ, crime, race or culture. Most of your ilk just call their opponents a slur and go on.

                    antonio

                    1. The only slur I’ve called you, antonio, is “troll,” because you regularly act like one (e.g,. with your “s@@tlibs” comments).

                      I don’t try to have serious discussions with trolls. If you want me to respond seriously to what you say, stop trolling.

              2. “I think everyone should have to do 2 years of national service . . .”

                Since when did slavery become moral?

                1. I was paid for my national service, Sam. I wasn’t a slave. Strange that you think national service is a form of slavery. Do you think mandatory jury service is a form of slavery too? Perhaps you have a weak understanding of what “slavery” means.

                  1. Perhaps you have a weak understanding of “mandatory” — which means compulsory, as in two years of work for the government under the threat of physical force. A free man works by choice. A slave works under the threat of a lash or jail. It matters not whether the force-wielder is a plantation owner or the government. And whether he’s paid is of little consequence.

                    1. It’s striking, Sam, that you chose not to answer my question: Do you think mandatory jury service is a form of slavery too?

                      As for what you did say, I think that I one cannot find a way of serving the country that’s acceptable to you (among the military, the Peace Corps, and other forms of national service), then one is not a patriotic person.

                      I understand “mandatory” just fine. We have all sorts of mandatory behavior in our country, sometimes under threat of jail (e.g., paying taxes). Do you think you’re already a slave to the country?

      2. Aninny:
        Oh he’s trashy too but at least he had a good reason. She’s just pure trash and that’s her reason.

        1. There is no good reason for revenge p0rn, mes. It’s abusive. You’re excusing abusive behavior.

          1. Aninny:
            “There is no good reason for revenge p0rn, mes. It’s abusive. You’re excusing abusive behavior.”
            ******************************
            There is when you violate your marital oath and I’m not excusing it, I’m promoting it. Shame is a good thing for the shameless. Turn about is also fair play. Suppression of the truth is always a bad idea.

            1. “Suppression of the truth is always a bad idea.”

              Glad to know that you think Trump’s (and your) tax returns should be made public,

                1. You’re the one who said “Suppression of the truth is always a bad idea.” You first.

  9. “Katie Hill has lost a lawsuit against her husband and a variety of other people, including the Daily Mail for reporting on her sex scandal involving a former aide.”

    Hill’s suit — copy here, https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/HillComplaint.pdf — was about the Daily Mail’s and RedState’s publication of revenge p0rn from her husband, published without Hill’s consent, at least one of them also taken without her consent. Publishing these photos is not “reporting.”

    “the underlying stories were protected”

    Again, her suit wasn’t about the stories. It was about the graphic photos published without her consent. It is a form of sexual abuse. Deal with it truthfully. Sexually graphic photos, JT, revenge p0rn. I know you can say it if you want to.

    “Hill abused her position of power but somehow converted that abuse into a women’s rights issue.”

    Because it was both!!! Why can’t you admit this? I have no problem saying that she should not have been involved with a staffer, and you should be able to say that publishing these photos without her consent is further abuse.

  10. There is a lot of junk news about humans having sex with other humans, sometimes of the same sex, sometimes underage, and whatnot I am outside in my backyard watching all the different birds flirting, or some now nesting. A bluebird wooden box has had bluebirds nesting since the year 3007. It’s been repaired several times and gets cleaned by me after each hatch has cleared out.

    A cardinal was at the bird feeder and said to his mate: Notice how these humans sometimes cheat on each other?
    When I heard that it got me focused on all this media crap about Cuomo and others.
    Birds of a feather, flock together. Dumb queers drink too many beers.

  11. Along the same lines.
    Governor DeSantis is being encouraged to sue 60 Minutes. Legal minds are seeing the 60 Minutes smear as the perfect fact set to overturn Sullivan at SCOTUS

  12. Professor, are you EVER going to give us your opinion on the billion dollar defamation lawsuit brought by Smartmatic and Dominion against your network Fox News? Don’t you think you owe us an explanation why you refuse to discuss it?

    And is it just a coincidence that you only find fault with CNN and MSNBC after you got on Fox’s payroll? Can we not expect that you will hold Fox to the same standard of journalistic ethics that you hold CNN and MSNBC?

    It’s getting rather obvious, you know, that you have become an advocate for Fox as opposed to an impartial legal commentator.

    1. Scooter….do you have the faintest concept of Conflict of Interest?

      The Good Professor cannot ethically comment on that Case as he is a FOX Contributor and it would be improper for him to comment.

      Take the pointy top hat off and turn around on that Stool you are perched on in the corner and look at reality instead of the paint where two walls meet.

      1. Of course JT can ethically comment on the suit, he just has to state his affiliation with Fox, which he sometimes does. Do you truly not know that he comments about Fox in other columns?

        It’s easy to find them. Here are a couple of examples –
        https://jonathanturley.org/2020/12/22/fox-news-got-it-exactly-right-amen-de-blasio-double-downs-on-plan-to-redistribute-wealth/
        https://jonathanturley.org/2020/09/15/trumps-weekly-fox-show-it-could-present-some-interesting-political-and-legal-issues/

        Ironic that you’re denigrating others while making false claims that JT “cannot ethically comment on that Case.”

          1. Oops. Sorry. Wrong commenter. I withdraw my comment. How embarrassing. This comment board is a minefield.

    2. @Silberman: In November, Prof Turley wrote a blog saying that whoever accused Dominion of voting fraud could be sued for defamation and that the defendants would have to show the evidence supporting their assertions. If their evidence – or lack thereof – did not establish the truth of their assertions, they would be liable for damages. Clearly, this would apply to Fox.

      https://jonathanturley.org/2020/11/19/is-dominion-going-to-sue-the-trump-team/

      1. RDKAY.

        I actually addressed your point just recently in response to an anonymous person who accused me:

        “Your comments about Turley are mean and indecent. Sometimes they are even libelous. Turley has talked about Dominion and included Fox in that discussion. He dedicated at least one of his blogs here to the Dominion subject.”

        I thus did a search of “Dominion” and 2 posts came up:

        11/20/20: “Will the Trump Team Prove a Global Conspiracy or Will Dominion Sue for Defamation?”

        This post discusses Dominion’s potential lawsuit against Trump’s lawyers. No mention of its potential lawsuit against Turley’s employer Fox. Turley failed to mention Fox’s repeatedly hosting these allegedly slanderous lawyers on its broadcasts and promoting these lies by Fox hosts themselves.

        12/6/20: “Will Pot Save the President? Michigan Judge Orders Forensic Investigation of Roughly Two Dozen Dominion Voting Machines”

        This post concerns an unrelated lawsuit concerning the results of a close voting result about marijuana. It had nothing to do with the election results of Trump though it did open the door into an investigation of the accuracy of Dominion machines. There was no mention of Fox News. However, Turley took the opportunity to comment:

        “polls show that up to 90 percent of Republicans and even a fair number of Democrats believe question the legitimacy of this election. With roughly 74 million voting for President Trump, such doubts are dangerous for this country which remains a virtual powder keg. The best option is greater scrutiny and transparency. We have had failures of leadership on both sides. President Trump has fueled the anger not by seeking challenges, which is his right. He has field [sic] by anger by declaring the election “stolen” and “rigged” and acting officials like Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger the “enemy of the people.” President-elect Biden failed to see that this country’s divisions will not be resolved — even partially — without greater scrutiny. He should have declared immediately that his campaign would not oppose judicial review of any and all election challenges.”

        Turley parrots the Republican/Fox News line that 90% of their voters question the legitimacy of the election WITHOUT mentioning that Trump and the Republicans have been repeating the Big Lie BEFORE and for months AFTER the election. Turley will not acknowledge how effectively this constant drum-beating of the Big Lie has shaped Republican public opinion. The fact that Turley would NOT mention that the ONLY reason 90% of Republicans would hold that belief is due to HIS NETWORK broadcasting that the election was ‘stolen’ and ‘rigged’ to millions of its viewers is proof that he is not being honest.

        I have repeatedly acknowledged that Turley has stated that HE did not give credence to these falsehoods, but to his everlasting discredit, he will not denounce Fox News for its hand in spreading the Big Lie in the past nor condemn Trump for continuing to do so to this very day! As long as he reveals his conflict of interest, Turley can ethically comment on these defamation lawsuits against Fox. My guess is that he will not address the billion dollar lawsuits because he is afraid of biting the hand that feeds him.

        1. Jeffrey you and your handlers are obviously very afraid of The Big Truth, that the election was stolen.

          As to Dominion’s defamation lawsuits. Defamation and libel lawsuits are a dime a dozen, and the plaintiff’s rarely win.

          But it does open up Dominion to discovery by the defendants. Which Dominion knew was coming anyway as a result of the lawsuits filed against Dominion.

          Dominion is just engaged in legal PR grandstanding.

          So, the Big Truth will be coming out, and your handlers know that. Which is why they created the extremely lame “Big Lie” meme you keep spouting here constantly in an attempt to get out in front of what they know is coming.

          It’s reminiscent of Pelosi having Trump impeached in the House for what Biden did in the Ukraine. That ended up as yet another nothingburger. Which is how Dominion’s defamation suits will end.

          1. Walworths/WTF/Wallower, you and your handlers are obviously very afraid of The Big Truth, that the election was NOT stolen.

            1. Stolen. You better call your buddies in Beijing for a drop shipment of anthrax in 2022. You’ll need it.

              1. Not stolen, I don’t have any buddies in Beijing, and I wouldn’t accept anthrax from anyone, much less use it, perhaps you’re talking about yourself.

    3. For the billionth time, it is HIS blog. HE GETS to pick the topics. If you don’t like it start your own blog and you can bloviate to your hearts content.

      1. If you object to my noting Turley’s unwillingness to criticize Fox News for the same failings he criticizes its media competitors, you don’t have to read them.

    4. Don’t you think you owe us an explanation why you refuse to discuss it?

      How much did you pay to subscribe to Turley’s blog? That’s exactly what he owes you.

      1. I’d gladly pay to support this blog if Turley were not beholden to Fox News. As it is, one cannot expect his impartial commentary.

              1. Olly: You mean you don’t walk around all day announcing to the world: “Don’t you know who I am?” No demands for rose petals in your path? Peasants don’t bow to your hat?

  13. “So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here–not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

    ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

  14. Leave it to Media to zealously protect Democrats while crucifying Republicans for similar misconduct.

    The Media’s role in society is to ferret out such misconduct without bias and report about it factually and with confirmed open sources…..not anonymous leakers and mere innuendo.

    A Member of Congress engaging in illicit sex with staffers, presenting an image of…or engaging in illegal use of illegal drugs…is certainly fair game for exposure to the Public.

    Members of Congress have an Oath to live up to….and should be held accountable.

    Far too little of that happens….lots of misconduct but far too few removals by Congress itself.

    Ethics Committees in Congress are a sad joke on the Nation….and should be forced to do their duty in a manner befitting the Office or they too should be removed.

    Does anyone not grasp why Congress and Politicians in general are held in such low regard by the People?

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