Politics is not a pursuit for the faint of heart or the thin of skin. Yet U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has evidently been so deeply wounded by the invective directed his way on Twitter, 140 to 280 characters at a time, that he has filed a defamation lawsuit against the company and three of its microblogging auteurs. He is seeking a whopping $250 million for the damage he believes they inflicted on his reputation.
Two of those alleged defamers went by the monikers “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow,” leavening their tweets occasionally with maternal and bovine jokes, respectively. In other words, they were parody accounts.
We would be the last to argue that Nunes or anyone else shouldn’t be able to seek redress for defamation in court. In this instance, though, it seems Nunes might be doing more damage to his reputation by focusing attention on the critical tweets than by just moving on and doing his work.
Nunes’ lawsuit doesn’t identify the people responsible for DevinNunesMom (which was shut down this month) or DevinCow on Twitter; the third microblogger sued is Liz Mair, a self-described libertarian Republican who has acted as a communications director for a series of Republican candidates across the country. So the catcalls appear to have been bipartisan.
Admittedly, some of the tweets were harsh enough to make a grown man cry — especially the ones from “Devin Nunes’ Mom,” who had a thing for salacious and profane hyperbole. A frequent topic was Nunes’ relationship with President Donald Trump; as you may recall, Nunes positioned himself as Trump’s shield on Capitol Hill, taking the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and turning it into an attack on the FBI. That led “Devin Nunes’ Mom” to accuse him of being such things as “presidential fluffer and swamp rat,” according to the complaint.
Just guessing here, but the real point of the lawsuit may not be to strike back at Nunes’ critics (although he did just that in his successful 2018 campaign for reelection, sending out a 40-page mailer attacking the negative press he’d received in the Fresno Bee). And his goal may not be to collect a huge sum from Twitter, which is so clearly protected by federal law against this very sort of lawsuit that Nunes’ lawyers had to have told him it was a fool’s errand. Instead, the purpose may simply have been to give Nunes a role in the fight against giant Silicon Valley tech companies that Trump and other Republicans have been waging since before the 2018 election.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES