Poor Devin Nunes. The Republican congressman and servile human shield for President Donald Trump is under siege from Twitter. And from a person pretending to be his mother. And from an imaginary, malicious cow. So he's suing for $250 million.
Nunes predicts that conservatives — you know, those champions against litigiousness —will soon rain down a flood of similar lawsuits against social media platforms. The folks who gave us the Bill Clinton impeachment, the Benghazi inquisition and birtherism are nursing hurt feelings about rough political discourse meted out 240 characters at a time on Twitter.
On one level, it's pathetically funny. The imaginary cow's Twitter following has ballooned since Nunes filed his suit last week. But it's also an ominous indication that Trump's penchant for thin-skinned attacks against, for example, "Saturday Night Live," has entered the GOP's bloodstream.
Suing over satire is nothing funny. It is as real an attempt to stifle free speech as shutting down presses or arresting peaceful protesters.
Nunes, of California, is the former House Intelligence Committee chair who for two years used that post to run interference for Trump against the Russia investigation, undermining U.S. intelligence and misleading the public. Nunes' antics in fealty to Trump were so brazen they prompted a House ethics investigation.
Nunes lost his chairmanship after the November midterm elections, but many Americans remain furious with him. Much of that fury is expressed via social media satire.
The now-suspended Twitter account @DevinNunesMom scolded his behavior from the standpoint of a clearly fictional parent. Another parody account, @DevinCow, purporting to be run by Nunes' disapproving farm animal, had about 1,200 followers before Nunes filed his suit. By Thursday, the cow had amassed more than a half-million followers.
Nunes alleges in his suit that the two parody accounts, along with a GOP strategist who doesn't like him, have employed "false and defamatory statements and relentless attacks on Nunes' reputation."
Among the allegedly slanderous posts by the parody cow — as specifically cited in Nunes' suit — are real zingers like saying Nunes' "boots are full of manure," and that he is "udder-ly worthless." Defamatory, indeed!
Nunes is suing Twitter for providing the vehicle for that content. He told Fox News he expects his lawsuit to be "the first of many" against social media platforms, claiming they provide platforms for "slander" against conservatives to proliferate. Since their definition of slander includes valid policy criticism and even late-night comedy skits, it's not hard to imagine where an argument like that might be headed.
Even frivolous suits cost money to defend, which can scare critics into silence. That's the whole point. It's easy to snicker about a congressman actually directing his attorneys to file this cow pie of a lawsuit, but the free-speech implications of suing over satire are deadly serious.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH