An attempt by journalists to discredit Johnny Depp’s legal victory against Amber Heard as “misogyny” is why readers are losing faith in legacy journalism, writes Jack Houghton.
Media outlets claiming “misogyny” is the reason Johnny Depp prevailed over his ex-wife Amber Heard in a US court have lost the trust of their readers.
You don’t have to look very hard to find video clips of the defamation trial on social media platforms.
There were countless dramatic moments of Heard being cross-examined by the now famous lawyer Camille Vasquez which gave millions around the world an answer to the only question that mattered.
Was Amber Heard credible?
If the court of public opinion could offer an edict the answer was clearly no.
You only had to follow the hashtags on TikTok to see that #JusticeForJohnnyDepp content had been viewed more than 15 billion times throughout the trial while #IStandWithAmberHeard clips drew a measly 8.2 million.
But on some legacy media outlets, the editorial support clearly swung in Heard’s favour.
One of the most nauseating articles was published by The Guardian.
Instead of analysing the evidence as it was presented in the court, author Moira Donegan refused to accept that Heard had lied.
This is despite the jury finding that Heard not only lied, but acted with malice when she intentionally spread those lies.
“The backlash to #Me Too has long been under way. But this feels like a tipping point.
“The strange, illogical, and unjust ruling has the effect of sanctioning Depp’s alleged abuse of Heard, and of punishing Heard for speaking about it.”
Activists operating under the guise of objective onlookers are upset because of what this means for their cause.
They don’t care about Heard, the fact that she’s facing bankruptcy or what commentary her young daughter might read online.
They care that their cause has taken a hit.
And this goes to the very heart of the issue with the #MeToo movement.
Individual cases of sexual or physical violence should not be conflated with others.
Each allegation needs to be assessed in isolation. Many are true and many are not.
That is why we have courts.
Instead, many in the media want us to view cases as collectivised examples of cultural trends.
The problem with this narrative is that when a court does find that a woman has lied about her experience, #MeToo activists find it hard to separate that notion from their reality.
Or as The Guardian put it, when a decision goes against one woman, all women are being targeted with “vitriol”.
“While most of the vitriol is nominally directed at Heard, it is hard to shake the feeling that really, it is directed at all women – and in particular, at those of us who spoke out about gendered abuse and sexual violence during the height of the #MeToo movement.
“We are in a moment of virulent antifeminist backlash, and the modest gains that were made in that era are being retracted with a gleeful display of victim-blaming at a massive scale.
“One woman has been made into a symbol of a movement that many view with fear and hatred, and she’s being punished for that movement. In this way, Heard is still in an abusive relationship. But now, it’s not just with Depp, but with the whole country.”
Depp and Heard clearly had a horrible and toxic relationship and he was certainly not blameless but to paint that trial as an attack on all women is just absurd.
The jury was asked to find whether the specific comments in Heard’s op-ed were defamatory and whether Heard acted in malice.
It is not fair to argue investigating those serious allegations in a civil court is tantamount to an attack on all women.
Remember, Heard also was able to successfully argue that comments by Depp’s former lawyer impugned her reputation, hardly a verdict that a cabal of sexist jurors would render.
And this leads to the next, more bizarre argument these activist journalists are levelling.
“(the result) will have a devastating effect on survivors, who will be silenced, now, with the knowledge that they cannot speak about their violent experiences at men’s hands without the threat of a ruinous libel suit.
“In that sense, women’s speech just became a lot less free.”
And Heard was equally quick to jump on the free speech bandwagon.
“I’m sad I lost this case but I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I had as an American to speak freely and openly,” she wrote on an Instagram post which blocked users from commenting.
Yes, Amber Heard is now concerned about the freedom of speech, even though she just successfully sued Johnny Depp for defamation.
It is these kind of inconsistencies which make Heard’s words difficult to swallow and her testimony videos prone to virality.
However, we must be careful not to draw sweeping cultural conclusions from the conduct of one disingenuous person.
Equally, as journalists, we must maintain scepticism before publishing life-destroying allegations with limited evidence.
Jack Houghton is the host of The Media Show and tonight at 8pm he will tackle this issue and the biggest media stories of the week. Watch live or on-demand on Foxtel or Sky News on Flash.