'Birther' lawsuit against Esquire Magazine dismissed

WASHINGTON, June 4 Mon Jun 4, 2012 9:37pm EDT

WASHINGTON, June 4 (Reuters) - A U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit on Monday against Esquire Magazine over a satirical blog post that said Joseph Farah, a prominent proponent of the "birther" movement, had denounced a book alleging that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Farah, CEO and editor-in-chief of the conservative-leaning website WorldNetDaily.com, had sued Esquire Magazine, its parent company Hearst Communications Inc., and writer Mark Warren for defamation, invasion of privacy, interference with business relations and violations under a federal trademark law.

In dismissing the suit in Washington, Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that the post was satire related to a matter of public interest and should be protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which deals with freedom of expression.

Collyer also concluded that the trademark law cited by Farah applied only to commercial speech, not to satirical non-commercial speech.

Warren published a blog post in May 2011 on esquire.com that said Farah had announced plans to recall and pulp all copies of a book he had published questioning Obama's eligibility to be president.

The post came after Obama had released the copy of his birth certificate at the end of April.

Most Republican critics of Obama have given up pushing long-running allegations that he was not born in the United States, where the president is required to be a "natural-born citizen," but Farah remains a proponent of this "birther" movement.

Obama - whose father was from Kenya and mother was from Kansas - released a long-form copy of his birth certificate last year as proof he was born in Hawaii to try to put to rest speculation that he was not born in the country.

According to the court ruling, Warren's post was published on an opinion page under the website's "The Politics Blog" and was tagged as humor.

The post described fictional interviews with Farah and sources from World Net Daily in which Farah was described as having said, "We'll do anything to hurt Obama, and erase his memory, but we don't want to look like .... idiots, you know?"

Farah had sought over $100 million in actual and compensatory damages and more than $20 million in punitive damages. Esquire magazine officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Farah's attorney Larry Klayman said his client planned to appeal.

"The court's decision was negligent and fatally flawed," he said. "The Washington establishment...has always been afraid of the eligibility issue. This may help explain why the judge dropped the case," Klayman said. (Reporting By Lily Kuo; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom)