Michael Moore Didn't Libel Bomber's Brother, Court Says

Tuesday, February 20th 2007, 3:23 pm
By: News On 6

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) _ Filmmaker Michael Moore won another round Tuesday in a court battle with the brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio sided with a Michigan-based federal judge who in 2005 threw out James Nichols' suit accusing Moore of libeling and defaming him in the Oscar-winning movie, ``Bowling for Columbine.''

Nichols, a Sanilac County soybean farmer, contended statements in the 2002 film could lead viewers to believe he was involved in the bombing. He also claimed the film invaded his privacy and inflicted emotional distress.

But a three-judge panel ruled unanimously that District Judge Paul D. Borman acted properly in rejecting the lawsuit. Borman found that Moore's statements about Nichols were ``factual and substantially true.''

Nichols ``has not presented any evidence indicating that Michael Moore intended to falsely implicate James Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing,'' the appeals panel said.

Moore's attorney, Herschel Fink, said it was gratifying that two federal courts had turned away challenges to the accuracy of the film, a withering commentary on guns and violence in America that won the Academy Award for best documentary.

``It's especially important because in this film, as well as 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and other instances, critics have claimed that his reporting is inaccurate,'' Fink said.

A message seeking comment was left with Nichols' attorney, Stefani Godsey.

Terry Nichols is serving two life sentences without parole for his role in the April 1995 bombing that killed 168 people. Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001 for masterminding the attack.

Agents raided James Nichols' farm two days after the bombing, after his brother and McVeigh were identified as suspects. James Nichols was arrested and held for 32 days, then released for lack of evidence.

He was indicted on charges of helping his brother and McVeigh detonate small bombs on his farm, which ultimately were dismissed.

In his suit, Nichols said the charges were unrelated to the Oklahoma City attack but that ``Bowling for Columbine'' suggested otherwise.

Nichols objected to statements in the film alleging that he and his brother made ``practice bombs'' before Oklahoma City, that both were arrested in connection with the bombing and that they were charged with conspiring to make and possess small bombs. He also complained about a statement that charges were dropped because ``the feds didn't have the goods on James.''

Borman ruled that all those statements were substantially true, and the appeals panel agreed. It also rejected Nichols' claim that even if the statements were true in isolation, the film presented them in a way that implied his involvement in the bombing.

The appeals panel upheld Borman's finding that Nichols was a public figure, which set a higher threshold for him to prove defamation.

Moore, a fiery leftist who lives near Traverse City, has produced a series of satirical documentaries beginning with ``Roger & Me,'' which explored how General Motors Corp.'s plant closings and layoffs affected his hometown of Flint. ``Fahrenheit 9/11'' skewered President Bush's handling of the war on terrorism.

Scheduled for release later this year is ``Sicko,'' which takes aim at the nation's health care system.