Media & Communications Law

Glenn Beck claims defamation plaintiff he labeled as bombing 'money man' is public figure

Did Glenn Beck make the man he wrongly accused of being the ‘money man’ behind the Boston Marathon bombing into a public figure?

The dispute is playing out in a defamation lawsuit filed by Abdulrahman Alharbi against the broadcaster, who aired his suspicions about Alharbi after the man had been cleared by police, the Washington Post reports.

Beck thought the Obama administration was covering up involvement by Alharbi, a 20-year-old student from Saudi Arabia studying English in Boston. Alharbi had gone to watch the marathon as a spectator, and suffered leg wounds when the bombs went off. He was interviewed by police, fully cooperated and was cleared by the next day, according to the Post.

“You know who the Saudi is?” Beck asked during his radio program. “He’s the money man. He’s the guy who paid for it.” In other broadcasts, Beck said Alharbi “is a very bad, bad, bad man” and claimed Alharbi had been tagged by the U.S. government as a “proven terrorist.”

In motions filed by his lawyers in the case, Beck contends Alharbi must prove his comments were made with actual malice because Alharbi is a limited-purpose and involuntary public figure, the Post says.

Beck claims Alharbi made himself into a limited public figure “by behaving suspiciously at the Marathon finishing line when the bombs detonated, thereby causing his detention and a background check by law enforcement.” Alharbi also gained media attention when he gave interviews defending himself, according to Beck’s legal documents.

Alharbi’s lawyers respond that Alharbi became known to the public because of Beck’s allegedly defamatory reporting. They claim that Beck is creating his own defense by making Alharbi a public figure.

“An individual does not become a public figure due to the fact that he is investigated in connection with a crime, and then states publicly that he was not involved in the crime for which he was investigated,” according to Alharbi’s lawyers.

Updated at 12:18 p.m. to add more details on Alharbi.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.