Blumenthal v. Drudge and AOL

Sidney Blumenthal and Jacqueline Blumenthal v. Matt Drudge and America Online, Inc., U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, Case Number, 97 CV-1968.

This page was last updated on December 18, 1999.

Nature of the Case.  Plaintiff, Blumenthal, and wife, seek damages for alleged defamation from Internet journalist Matt Drudge, and from deep pockets defendant America Online for being the online service in which Drudge published a story about Blumenthal. AOL won a dismissal.

Plaintiffs.  Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton assistant, and his wife.  6805 6th St. NW, Washington DC, 202-723-7556.  Attorneys: William Alden McDaniel, Jr., and Jo Marsh, 118 West Mulberry St., Baltimore, MD, 21201-3606, 410-685-3810.


Facts. Blumenthal is a Clinton aide whose job it is to dish dirt on witnesses, journalists, and prosecutors who say or do things embarrassing to Clinton on Whitewater, Lewinsky, and other matters. Matt Drudge is the writer and publisher of the Drudge Report, which contains conservative political news, opinion, and gossip. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky was once his signature issue. He also published via an area in online service AOL.

Drudge published a story about Blumenthal which quoted an anonymous source as saying that Blumenthal had abused his spouse. The Blumenthals filed a Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding $30,000,001.00 in damages on each of 21 counts. Blumenthal also named AOL as a defendant, alleging that it is liable for Drudge's alleged defamation.

Issues. The dispute between Blumenthal and Drudge is tempestuous and tabloidal, but of no consequence to the computer or internet industry. However, the claim against AOL seeks to avoid section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which bars claims against "interactive computer services" (such as AOL) for "information provided by another content provider" (such as Drudge). A ruling against AOL would have major consequences for online services, and anyone who provides bulletin boards, guest books, chat rooms, or other interactive services. To date, three courts have ruled in AOL's favor in similar claims. See for example, Zeran v. AOL.

Status. AOL was dismissed from the suit on April 22, 1998, pursuant to Section 230. The remainder of the case has been largely inactive since April 1999. Drudge filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The opposition brief is due January 20, 2000. The reply brief is due February 7. Blumenthal also still has the option of appealing the dismissal of AOL, once final judgment in entered in the case.

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