The Collateral Damage from a Sniper’s Literary Misfire

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As a military sniper, the late Chris Kyle earned notoriety by killing people from the shadows, striking at them from a distance and then disappearing. In his memoir, American Sniper, Kyle attempted the literary version of that tactic on Jesse Ventura – and now his family is suffering the fallout from his misfire.

In his memoir Kyle claimed to have confronted Ventura (referred to as “Scuff Face” in the book), a former Navy diver and critic of U.S. foreign policy, in a bar following a Navy SEAL funeral. Supposedly furious over disparaging comments Ventura made about the deceased and his friends, Kyle slugged the much older man and then ran away before the police arrived.

A jury in Minnesota has found that it was a conscious, malicious falsehood that injured Ventura’s reputation and awarded him $1.8 million in damages.

Kyle was killed last year on a gun range in Texas by a fellow Iraq war veteran who suffered from severe post-combat emotional problems. Many of Kyle’s partisans have professed shock and outrage that Ventura pursued a lawsuit that supposedly targeted the former sniper’s widow and children. However, that suit was filed roughly a year before Kyle was killed, and Ventura had provided ample opportunity for him to make a retraction before his death. His suit targeted Kyle’s estate, in particular the profits received from the book and subsequent media tour.

Whatever one thinks of the merits of Ventura’s case or the wisdom of pursuing it (or, for that matter, the legitimacy of libel laws), it’s impossible to see how Kyle’s behavior was honorable. Kyle’s defense against Ventura’s defamation suit was that he told the truth about an incident in which he claimed to have sucker-punched a man old enough to qualify for a senior discount and then “took off running” – conduct that would hardly leave him covered in glory. Given that Kyle traded on his association with the Navy SEALs, his behavior makes one wonder why the SEALs didn’t file their own defamation suit against him.

1:07 pm on July 30, 2014