Don’t let the ACLU write your op-eds and other lessons from the Amber Heard libel trial

“Legal victory for Johnny Depp after he and Amber Heard found liable for defamation” (CNN, today):

Depp sued Heard, his ex-wife, for defamation over a 2018 op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Though Depp was not named in the article, he claims it cost him lucrative acting roles.

The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million dollars in punitive damages.

It seems that the CNN reporters did not do a lot of research. In fact, Amber Heard did not write the op-ed that proved expensive. “The ACLU Says It Wrote Amber Heard’s Domestic Violence Op-Ed and Timed It to Her Film Release” (Jezebel, April 28):

ACLU staffers actually ghost-wrote The Washington Post op-ed at the center of the trial, in which Heard claimed to be a survivor of domestic violence, and they pitched on her behalf, timed to the release of Heard’s then-upcoming film, Aquaman.

Lesson 1 is therefore “Don’t let the ACLU write your op-eds”? (Lesson 1a is “Don’t believe CNN”? They don’t even mention the ACLU, whose role was apparently central.)

What other lessons can we take away from this tawdry spectacle? Also from Jezebel:

Today, on Day 11 of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed in damning testimony that Amber Heard has given just $1.3 million to the organization after promising in 2016 to give $3.5 million of her divorce settlement to the organization—and her ex Elon Musk donated nearly half of that money ($500,000, to be exact).

Could Lesson 2 be “Don’t rely on the promises of a family court plaintiff”?

Separately, why is the ACLU involved in domestic violence? Here’s a list of civil liberties:

freedom of conscience, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to security and liberty, freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to equal treatment under the law and due process, the right to a fair trial, and the right to life. Other civil liberties include the right to own property, the right to defend oneself, and the right to bodily integrity.

Maybe it is the “right to security”? But the typical domestic violence plaintiff (as distinct from domestic violence victim), like Amber Heard, is seeking cash, not security.

Also, is “right to life” a civil liberty? That sounds like “pro-life” and the ACLU is on the opposite side (see the abortion section of, which we learn that “the burden [of abortion restrictions] falls hardest on … LGBTQ+ people” (maybe Ketanji’s panel of biologists can explain that!)). How about “right to bodily integrity”? Is the ACLU opposed to forcing experimental injections on people? Far from it! “Civil Liberties and Vaccine Mandates: Here’s Our Take”:

Far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further them.

Circling back to Amber Heard, a domestic violence victim turned philanthropist, could the ACLU pay for the mess that they got her into? Their 2021 annual report lists assets of $748 million.

Related (very loosely):

Posted in Law

18 thoughts on “Don’t let the ACLU write your op-eds and other lessons from the Amber Heard libel trial

  1. Two deeply unpleasant people I am happy to say I have minimized my exposure to thanks to my filtering RSS reader. That said, it’s odd that Johnny Depp could lose his libel case in the UK and win a defamation case in the US on essentially the same facts, given how stacked the UK’s libel laws are against the defendant and how strong First Amendment protections are in the US.

    • Fazal: I think part of the difference may be that Americans understand that nearly every plaintiff in a high-$$ divorce lawsuit who identifies as “female” claims to have suffered domestic violence. It would be family court malpractice to leave out this allegation.

      Also, did Amber Heard testify at the trial you’re talking about in the UK? If she did not testify, nobody in the UK would have had any way to evaluate the credibility of her victim narrative. … let me answer my own question. says “Although Heard was not named in the British case, she testified over several days as a witness called by the Sun.” Was she on the witness stand for more time in the US case? That’s not helpful when people are lying as the inconsistencies build up.

    • Fazal: The UK trial had no jury, right? The trial lawyers that I know say that juries are better at figuring out which witnesses are truthful than are judges. (This is sometimes their response when asked why it is productive to have lay juries in patent infringement cases where the evidence is often technical.)

    • @Alex

      ENews may have lifted the article from the Bezos time, but they don’t run an infinite loop in my cookies-blocked-by-default primary browser, nor do they have paywalls, nag screens and other user-hostile behavior, so I more than forgive them.

      It’s a great analysis, nonetheless. And I agree with Phil, it gives judges way too much credit.

  2. What other lessons can we take away from this tawdry spectacle? Don’t shit the bed.

  3. Johnny Depp as he walked out: “this is the day you will always remember as the day you *almost* caught Captain Jack Sparrow”.

  4. Of course you should have the ACLU do it, and many will again in the future, especially if it coincides with another movie release campaign. The ACLU can’t abandon capitalizing on such things – it would be financial suicide.

    They just need to wait a few months until the “look” blows over. If you read the comments, it’s not the fact that they did it that bothers most of the Jezebel readers – it’s that it was exposed – that they were caught – which creates an “optics problem” they now need to shoo away. It’s not that it was the wrong thing to do – it’s that it “looks bad.”

    Next time they just need to be a little more careful. Instead of having one of their own comms. specialists write the draft, they outsource it to a friend, and then just Zoom in anonymously to give their critiques.

    Hasn’t anybody ever heard of Eternal Recurrence? Sheesh.

  5. The ACLU has indeed turned into an activist organization (

    In 2018, the ACLU spent over$1 million on advertisements likening Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, essentially accusing him of crimes for which he was never tried or convicted. More egregious than their brazen political partisanship was the way in which the ads traduced the presumption of innocence, a bedrock of American jurisprudence and a principle the ACLU was founded to uphold. Asked why his organization was willing to further violate its tradition of political neutrality, Faiz Shakir, a Democratic Party operative then serving as the ACLU’s national political director, was brutally honest. “People have funded us and I think they expect a return,” he said.

    Any bureaucracy loses its original goals (

    The corporate version is the Gervais principle (, which explains the rise of social justice middle management and HR.

  6. I read the article on theroot, linked from the twitter post that philg put in the related section. As I am not versed in the current American cultural atmosphere, first I thought that theroot must be a satire website, like theonion. I shook the head in disbelief when I googled it and it turned up they take themselves seriously.

    • @Adso von Melk: I remember reading the Onion in its native environment: Chicago and Wisconsin, when it was run by all left-wing video store employees and art nerds. It was printed and distributed throughout Chicago like a lot of other Alt-left newspapers. Their biting, mocking, left-wing nihilism used to be my kind of “thing.”

      Then they got popular. Aaron Brown from ABC (?) I think started feeding the to the general public on his late-night news program. Then they picked up corporate sponsorship and as a result had to occasionally make fun of Democrats and not just corporations and so forth.

      But I recall thinking in the late ’90s – “This is how the world is really going to be in 20 years.”

      Here we are!

    • They had an office not far from where I lived. I used to walk past it while picking up a copy to read at the local version of the Chestnut Tree Cafe on my way home from work.

  7. All the lion kingdom gleamed from that story was the public being in love with Jack Sparrow & Amber Heard representing the kind of dysfunctional women who live in Elon Musk’s world.

    • @lion: Why can’t all these multi-millionaires, multi-mega millionaires and billionaires just get along and take care of each other’s problems without bothering the rest of us? I’m more than a little sick and tired of hearing about their problems. There are so many other people in this country who are in really bad shape with little to nothing for resources and we’re watching these fuckups fuck each other over and shit in each other’s beds, while we debate which fucked-up fuckup is is telling the truth.

    • I think we should build them a big boat, put them all on it, tow them out to the coast of Africa or someplace in the Azores, arm them to the teeth with long knives, and just set them adrift. They can all be pirates for real! Good luck! Does anyone have a better idea? Because these folks are really hopeless and don’t deserve our attention or concern. They have endless amounts of resources, Gold Plated lives, lawyers, and everything else imaginable but they have to keep inflicting themselves on us.

      I say: “It’s time for you to LEAVE. All of you! In the boat! Goodbye!”

  8. Both the media and the public opinion painted Amber Heard as a very bad person and someone who is not a victim of #MeToo. This makes me wonder if the same would have been done if she was a person of color being sued by a white person such as Johnny Deep.

    • Also, Amber’s lawyers are also being painted as amateur and ridiculed by the media and the public, would the same have been done if Amber’s lawyer was a person of color?

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