I, along with 1.2 million others, recently watched the conclusion of a long, 6-week defamation court battle between the much-beloved actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.
While many took the position that it was a TMZ drama fest best left to people who love watching others’ dirty laundry being aired out in public to make their own miserable lives seem better, I respectfully disagree. I found it to be an extremely interesting and educational process about our court system, defamation laws, how to argue a position (and how NOT to), and the importance and value of the relationship we have with our “fans” or audience. Later, I also saw how to win like a champion without smugness (Depp’s attorneys) and how to make being a loser even worse by blaming everyone but yourself (Heard’s attorney).
In case you are unfamiliar with the story, Johnny Depp sued Amber Heard for $50 million for defamation of his character when she, in conjunction with the ACLU, wrote an op-ed piece stating that she was repeatedly a victim of sexual and physical abuse by Depp. In return, she countersued for $100 million with her own defamation case against him. In the end, he won on every accusation of defamation put forward in the suit and was awarded $15 million, while Heard won on one accusation and got a $2 million award. I can’t know this for a fact, but Heard’s seemed like a token award.
While it was an all-around toxic marriage, with Johnny admitting to years of drug and alcohol addiction and doing a number of things he regretted, Amber was by far no peach (hence the headline of the article; if you know, you know). Bottom line, the jury found too many holes in her argument and zero proof of the abuse she claimed she suffered – and the fact that he won speaks volumes for him and his attorneys because the defamation laws do NOT favor an actor like Depp, and the burden of proof to win such a case is extremely high.
Heard’s attorney has already said they will appeal the ruling for several reasons, one being that the jury was swayed by the overwhelming support for Depp online (which she claims was fake and fueled by Depp’s team), assuming the jury failed to keep their oath of staying off social media and discussing the case with others. I’m not so sure. And if she does appeal, they are going to have a hell of a time finding a jury unaware of THIS trial and the overwhelming support for Depp from his fans.
Example: the hashtag #JusticeforAmberHeard got 27 million views – but the hashtag #JusticeforJohnnyDepp secured 20 BILLION. Every day, his fans lined up outside the courtroom with signs, gifts, “Justice For Johnny” T-shirts, and a pair of alpacas (you’ll have to watch the trial to know why), cheering him on as he arrived at and left the courtroom. The support for Amber was marginal at best, with Depp’s fans skewering Heard online.
All of this demonstrated a few things.
First, you don’t have to be perfect to win the hearts of your audience – your “audience” meaning your clients, employees, and those who are in support of your business. One of the reasons Johnny had so much support is because he openly owned his addiction and subsequent bad behavior. He didn’t blame anyone and he didn’t try to hide it or cover it up. Openly admitting to a flaw will create more trust with your clients (audience). Most people know they aren’t perfect and won’t judge you as harshly as you think for openly admitting to a screwup, a weakness or something you’re struggling with. What you WILL get nailed for is lying and attempting to cover up those lies, which is what the people watching virtually (and apparently the jury) saw in Amber Heard.
Second, having a loyal fan base – a REAL fan base – is a powerful asset. Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think Depp’s team artificially manufactured this support. The trial was live-streamed every day and people saw for themselves both sides’ testimony, unedited. They made their decision just like the jury did. I DO believe his career will spring back to life, given the groundswell of support. Of course, it helps to build a fan base if you get to play a cool character like Captain Jack, but you certainly don’t need that to win over the hearts and minds of YOUR clients, YOUR audience, and YOUR circle of influence.
On a final note, my thoughts on what this does to the “MeToo” movement. Many are saying this is a setback for women’s rights and will have a “chilling” effect on women seeking protection, escape and justice from an abusive relationship. I don’t disagree with that entirely. In my mid-twenties, I was in a relationship with a man who was emotionally abusive and building toward physical. Around others, he was very charming and well-liked. Later, when I exposed his behavior, people were shocked. Watching the dirt dug up and the harsh cross-examination is enough to put anyone off from seeking justice, particularly if you didn’t have a lot of evidence. Had Heard actually been the abused rather than the abuser, going through that would have been horrific.
But I also think making those accusations publicly against someone when false or even exaggerated is reprehensible. Once you do that, there IS a stain on someone’s character that lasts and will be carried forward, causing people to just not want to deal with you.
On the other hand, Camille Vasquez, Depp’s female attorney, was FIERCE in this trial. She was extremely prepared, tough as nails, a consummate professional, and truly had her sh*t together. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her argue this case as I would any high-performer in any field of endeavor. She did a world of good for women’s rights in that trial, and it is my opinion that what Amber Heard did set BACK women’s rights and justice for those in truly abusive relationships. Bottom line, abuse is abuse; there is no gender in it.