The day of and following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, Abdulrahman Alharbi’s life changed in several ways. First, he was injured and taken to a local hospital. Then he was given a full investigation by the FBI, and finally, after his name had been cleared, found himself accused by Glenn Beck of everything from funding the operation to being a front man for the Obama Administration. Knowing he will likely never get his reputation back, Mr. Alharbi has filed a defamation suit against Glenn Beck, seeking to hold the broadcaster accountable for actions against him.
After the bombing Alharbi recounts being questioned by various law enforcement officials, even before doctors had a chance to look at look at his wounds. His wallet was taken away and he claims he was not initially given the chance to talk to a lawyer. Soon the FBI would go over his apartment, his acquaintances, and his history as a student studying in the U.S. Finding nothing of interest, a few days after the bombing he was no longer considered a “suspect” and was reclassified as a “witness”.
Glenn Beck didn’t believe it; he had decided the Saudi Arabian student had to have something to do with the bombings. On his radio show, his television show, and his news website, The Blaze, he accused the Boston police, the FBI, the Justice Department, Executive Branch, and media of a massive coverup. How big of a coverup? Beck told his television audience the cover up was “far beyond Benghazi” and the biggest he’s since since the cover up of 9/11.
By failing to arrest or detain Alharbi, Beck said he was ready to expose everybody involved with the case. He said the government and media had three days, and then he would release information that would prove a massive cover up. “I don’t bluff, I make promises,” Beck said on his television show, “There is no depth that these people will not stoop to. The have until Monday and then The Blaze will expose it.” Despite his warning, Monday come and went with nothing shocking or significant released by Beck. Soon after his interest in Abdulrahman Alharb and the Boston Bombing conspiracy faded away.
Whether Mr. Alharbi will be able to prove actionable harm and hold Glenn Beck accountable for slander is hard to say. The United States’ Supreme Court has ruled “a public figure must prove an additional element of “actual malice” in a defamation case,” and malice has historically been hard to prove. In 2007 the Boston Herald was successfully sued for “reckless reporting.” but the court defined “reckless reporting” as reporting false information. Mr. Alharbi may not be able to sufficiently prove Beck knowingly reported false information.
Glenn Beck has an immense bully pulpit, which is why a lawsuit like this could prove important. He has the fifth highest rated radio talk show in the nation, his The Blaze website is ranked number two in the News Website rankings, and his television network is carried on Dish Network and can be subscribed to on the web. His media empire is expected to make around $100 million this year. If Beck decides to turn his blinding gaze on a 20-year-old student from Saudi Arabia, the student has little in the way of recourse.
Even if Beck ends up paying a settlement or a court judgement, it will not be much in relation to his financial empire, and it will not matter. He obviously believes in his own righteousness; his cause is just and woe to disbelievers, as they are the enemy to both God and himself. He believes any damage he might do is justified collateral on the road to America’s redemption, however he defines it. As anyone can guess, he has yet to retract or issue any apologies to Abdulrahman Alharb, long after the man has been cleared of any involvement in the bombing.
Glenn Beck technically can be held accountable for his actions but likely will not change his methods or consider the damage he can cause. And he can cause a lot of damage
Opinion by Andrew Elfenbein
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyelf