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How the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard Trial Severely Damaged the Legacy Media's Credibility
In December 18, 2018, actress Amber Heard published on op-ed on the Washington Post titled "I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change". In the article, she alleged to be a victim of domestic abuse. While she did not mention Johnny Depp by name, considering that they divorced in 2017, it is more than certain that she referred to her ex-husband in the context of domestic abuse.
As a result, Depp's reputation was severely tarnished and studios were hesitant to employ his acting services. He lost the role of Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean as well as Gellert Grindelwald from Fantastic Beasts. Eventually, he sued Heard for defamation and the trial was held in Virginian court.
The trial lasted for 6 weeks and after much deliberation, on June 1, 2022, the jury found Heard guilty on three counts for defamation. The jury charged her $10 million in compensatory damages plus $5 million in punitive damages (which would be reduced to $350K due to Virginia's punitive limit). Heard did win on one count for defamation in her countersuit with the jury awarding her $2 million in compensatory damages. Overall, she owed Depp a net of $8.35 million.
To say that the verdict sent shockwaves across the US would be an understatement. Those that supported Depp or grew to support Depp were happy to see him clear his name and regain some of his reputation. However, there were quite a few who were furious with the result, namely the legacy media. Prior to the verdict, the media made its support for Heard rather unsubtle. MSNBC, for instance, published an article titled "No matter who 'wins' the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, America has lost". The organization claimed that pro-Depp individuals were "cheering for [women's] humiliation" and that it would "make victims more afraid to come forward". Voguemade a rather audacious statement with "Why It’s Time to Believe Amber Heard" even though the trial still had 2 weeks to go when the article was published.
As a result, the legacy media's reaction to the verdict was predictable. An opinion piece from The Guardiancalled the trial an "orgy of misogyny". Slateclaimed that American has been duped and "if Depp’s behavior was textbook abuser, Heard’s was textbook abuse victim". It even went as far as to namedrop GamerGate even though the movement has been dead for 7 years or so and the FBI investigation found no leads that suggested GamerGate was ever a harassment campaign.
Unsurprisingly, CNN continues to be CNN.
However, the general public has not been buying what the legacy media has been pushing. That was thanks to the high profile case being broadcasted live for everyone to watch in real time. Several of the trial videos from the Law&Crime Network YouTube channel, for instance, each garnered over 1 million views. Everyday people could tune in, observe the statements of the lawyers, Depp, Heard, and their witnesses, and make their own conclusions. On top of that, a lot of lawyers on YouTube, aka. LawTubers, held livestreams where they gave real time commentary and feedback. People like Rekieta Law, CLR Bruce Rivers, Legal Bytes, and NateTheLawyer effectively used their experience and expertise to explain the trial's rhyme-and-reason to their audience in a way that was easily understood.
This did not sit well with some of the members of the legacy media. After the verdict was announced, Rekieta Law put out a notice that the media would be angry at the independent coverage and put out hit pieces. His prediction came true when Washington Post writer Taylor Lorenz published an article accusing independent content creators for covering the trial for money and clout. Lorenz claimed that Legal Bytes (Alyte Mazeika) "pivoted" her content to cover the Depp v. Heard trial which is not true as she covered the Rittenhouse trial months ago (example). In addition, Lorenz alleged that Legal Bytes and another content creator, TheUmbrellaGuy, did not respond to requests for comment. Both Legal Bytes and TheUmbrellaGuy stated otherwise which led to the article getting sloppily edited several times (check the history of the archive).
As to why the legacy media has been behaving this unprofessionally, I think it is because they threw support behind Amber Heard since her defamatory op-ed and drew the line on the sand. Because they backed her (and the #MeToo movement) for so long, they could not backtrack or otherwise, their reputations would get severely damaged. Basically, the legacy media got caught in their sunken cost fallacy and rooted for the verdict to go in Heard's favor. However, that ended up backfiring and hurting their reputation more than it would've been had they admitted to their mistakes from the start.
While I personally don't care much for celebrity drama, this trial has provided extremely valuable lessons to everyone. "Believe all women" is a totally irrational way of thinking. Allegations should be taken seriously, but not be taken at face value without scrutiny. In addition, men can be domestic abuse victims, too. It also brings into question on whether all trials should be publicly broadcasted. It was highly valuable during the Rittenhouse case as it exposed the blatant corruption from the prosecution. Johnny Depp did not have overwhelming support at the start of the trial, but he gradually won people over with his calm friendly demeanor. Had the audience not listened to him owning up to his drug abuse and alcoholism on the stand, I think the public opinion of his character would be very different. Lastly, the LawTubers provide a lot of educational value to those who are unfamiliar with the dynamics of trials.