Joseph Arthur sues LA Times over vaccine characterization

Musician Joseph Arthur is suing the LA Times, claiming that an article the outlet wrote about his position and his position on vaccines left him “avoided and shunned”.

The singer-songwriter has filed a lawsuit against the newspaper over its use of the term “anti-vax” in a headline the LA Times wrote about a year ago, adding that he believes the term was defamatory.

The artist has come out strongly against the COVID vaccine but says he hasn’t opposed all types of vaccines.

Virginia attorney Steven S. Biss is representing Arthur in the lawsuit. Biss has represented celebrity clients like Republican lawmaker Devon Nunes against CNN and The Washington Post.

The client and his attorney are seeking $25 million in damages.

The August 19 LA Times headline read, “He Was a Famous Singer-Songwriter with Famous Fans. Then he started publishing articles about the vaccine. Obviously, the term “anti-vax” is not indicated in the title. However, her lawsuit alleges that she falsely implies that Arthur is against all types of vaccines or others.

“Arthur’s prescient statements about COVID-19 vaccines were 100% factually accurate,” the lawsuit states.

“The article questioned Arthur’s professional integrity and exposed him to hatred, contempt, ridicule or slander as an anti-vaccine person. The publication caused him to run away and avoid. The article seriously hurt Arthur in his profession as a musician, directly leading to the cancellation of several concerts. In addition to pain, emotional suffering, insult, embarrassment, humiliation and reputational damage, the LA Times publication caused career damage, loss of future income and impaired and diminished Arthur’s earning capacity.

The suit also seems to imply that Arthur’s career has been irrevocably altered due to the LA Times article, alone.

Last year, the Times wrote: “Being the relentless voice of what he sees as a disgruntled minority has cost him dearly. This year, his longtime music manager dropped him as a client, followed by his booking agent. Arthur’s newly formed band quit en masse, and he says he lost a record deal that would have handed out a new double album to his fans…. His remaining fans are begging him to stop.

Prior to the LA Times piece, Arthur released a song called “Stop the Shot”.

On Facebook, Arthur read a poem called “The Unfollow Threat”, about his detractors, he said he wished to unfollow him instead of threatening him. He said: “That’s what the Nazis did with the Jews, likening them to vermin before rounding them up and taking them to camps. Then there’s isolation, that’s the other technician of the indoctrination cult. How could they amplify that? Tell people they can’t leave their homes, they can only socialize through screens, deflate any heat from their dream room…”

There is no doubt, however, that the LA Times article amplified Arthur’s position. Namely, a club that Arthur was supposed to play for wrote to him: “We have received a lot of rejections, emails and such from staff and customers after the publication of this article on vaccines and masks…. It’s not what we want to do, but it’s what we have to do. As a current venue, we cannot do anything that could put staff or customers at risk, as a big part of the game we are playing right now is about ‘peace of mind’. I hope you understand.”

Arthur also had an album he was to record with Peter Buck of REM canceled. Although his lawsuit does not mention this canceled record.

The lawsuit also includes an excerpt from a DM between Arthur and the article’s author, Randall Roberts, who is no longer with the LA Times and is not named as a defendant. Roberts says Arthur should email the newspaper’s editor, Craig Marks, who wrote the headline.

“I’m not an anti-vaxxer,” Arthur told Roberts in the DM. “I am against this experimental vaccine without long-term testing that harms many and is completely ineffective against the spread of the virus. I am against censorship and against the suppression of safe and effective treatments that could save lives. You misrepresented me here. … You specifically asked me if I was anti-vax and I specifically said no, I wasn’t. No small detail in today’s environment. A piece like this requires nuance. Obviously, I knew this would look in a negative light, but I assumed there would be no outright lies. Especially in a title. It shows up on a Google search.

The lawsuit further claims that the LA Times endangered Arthur’s infant son by publishing a photo of the two of them. It read: “By prominently inserting a photograph into the article of Arthur holding his newborn baby, the LA Times intended and approved of the false and defamatory implication, and implied that Arthur was endangering his child , his family, even the whole society.

There’s also a link to a tweet included, in which Roberts says to another tweeter, “Thank you, Robert. I still don’t know if it was a good idea or not. This, the suit says, represents the writer’s lack of confidence in the direction of the play. Although the exact context of the tweet is up for debate since what he was responding to has since been deleted.

Rene Lopez, a former member of Arthur’s band for 10 years, expressed dismay at Arthur’s beliefs in the LA Times article. Lopez reportedly said, “His rhetoric has been horribly dangerous over the past year. He continues to urge fans not to wear masks and just boost their nutrition. Some lap it. It was frightening. Something changed in him about three years ago, he hasn’t been well since. I saw the change happen early on because he started sending me videos of different guys talking about conspiracy stuff. I’ve seen him go through so many phases. This phase is worrying, of course.

The suit also calls for a jury trial.

(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

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