A judge from the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled in favor of Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and former Phillies star Ryan Howard Friday, partially denying Al Jazeera’s motion to dismiss the defamation suit Zimmerman filed against the network in response to allegations made in its documentary “The Dark Side.”
In the documentary, pharmaceutical dealer Charlie Sly claimed Zimmerman used a PED called Delta 2 — statements Zimmerman categorically denied, and statements Major League Baseball’s investigation found no evidence to corroborate. The league cleared Zimmerman of any wrongdoing.
Defamation suits are difficult for public figures like Zimmerman and Howard to win. To prove defamation, one must show evidence of “actual malice” — most often explained as reckless disregard for the truth. Traditionally, actual malice has been difficult to prove.
Al Jazeera’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the players’ complaint did not provide enough evidence to support the network exhibited actual malice in publishing the documentary. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled that while actual malice is “a close question” in this case, Zimmerman’s team provided enough facts to “support an inference that Al Jazeera … had obvious reasons to doubt Sly’s claims, and that they proceeded to publish ‘The Dark Side’ with reckless disregard for the truth of those claims.”
In other words, the suit can now move forward. However, the fact that Jackson found enough evidence to claim actual malice does not mean Zimmerman’s team will be successful proving it.
Jackson did not find sufficient evidence of actual malice in the work of Liam Collins, the undercover journalist featured in the documentary, and therefore granted Al Jazeera’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit against him.