Whew. Now that that’s over, can we please get back to our lives?
A jury awarded Johnny Depp $15 million on Wednesday in the defamation case he brought against Amber Heard, his ex-wife — $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Heard, meanwhile, was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and nothing in punitive damages.
All the cable news networks covered the reading of the verdict live. Most of the broadcast networks cut into programming for it, too.
And for such an over-the-top sensation, coverage of the verdict was surprisingly straightforward, a most welcome surprise.
“Five million dollars, man, that is a message to Amber Heard,” Brian Claypool, an attorney analyzing the trial for Fox News, said after the verdict. That’s about as strong as it got.
So, Depp won a lot and Heard won a little, relatively speaking.
Everyone else lost.
The Depp-Heard trial is one of the uglier court battles in memory
Thus ends one of the uglier high-profile civil trials in memory.
Thankfully. You like to think that the world is more complex, that it can’t be broken down into two sides: #JusticeForJohnny Depp or #IStandWithAmberHeard.
This is not to belittle the seriousness of the allegations on both sides. Depp and Heard are real people with real problems, after all, not just meme fodder and hashtag subjects, though it was evidently easy for a lot of people to forget that.
The case captured the public imagination — dominated the public imagination, at least the part of it that lives on social media — in a way not seen in ages. Not since the O.J. Simpson trial, maybe? Or Michael Jackson?
Why? Part of the answer is easy. Depp and Heard are famous people locked in a stunningly lurid battle. No need to rehash the particulars — “Saturday Night Live” already did that, another sign of how absorbed audiences were in the trial.
Suffice to say that the scandalous accusations and details, back and forth, would get edited out of any plausible Hollywood script not written by John Waters. Too much, they’d say. No one is going to believe this.
The particulars are more pedestrian. Depp sued Heard for $50 million, saying she libeled him in an op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post in 2018 in which she called herself a public figure representing domestic abuse. Heard countersued Depp for $100 million.
The trial started April 11. Immediately people took notice — and took sides. It seemed as if everyone was talking or posting about it.
And not just regarding Depp and Heard. Making a jury believe at least some of your argument is the job of lawyers, of course. So, naturally, the lawyers became at least Twitter-famous, too.
Twitter and TikTok treated every detail of the trial as if the social-media platforms were King Midas. But what it touched, it wasn’t turning to gold.
People read more about the case than war in Ukraine or Joe Biden
Who knew Depp still had this kind of fan base? And frankly, who would want this kind of fan base?
A lot of people didn’t believe Heard, including the jury. But the vile nature of some of the misogynistic tweets and TikTok videos posted about Heard were toxic masculinity at its worst. Toxic humanity, even, with threats of violence made while extolling Depp’s virtues. The hate was breathtaking.
It was a one-sided battle, at least in public opinion. The hashtag #JusticeForJohnny in mid-May had more than 10 billion views, while #justiceforamberheard had 39 million.
Axios, meanwhile, using information from NewsWhip, reported (before the Uvalde, Texas shooting) that stories about the trial got more online attention than stories about Elon Musk as he was launching his bizarre Twitter takeover attempt, Joe Biden, abortion in the wake of the leak of the U.S. Supreme Court leak or the Russia-Ukraine war.
Those are seriously twisted priorities.
Yes, it’s true that some stories allow you to take your mind off of the horrors the world offers at the moment. But that’s what baseball is for. Why steep yourself in this kind of ugliness?
It often felt like piling on, up to and after the end.
Here’s Jeanine Pirro on Fox News after the verdict: “Everything changed for (Depp) because a woman made a decision that she was going to ride on the coattails of real battered women. You have to understand that whenever there is someone like an Amber Heard — and I felt this right from the beginning, even though I held back on it — she was not saying the truth. What she said didn’t ring true. It didn’t make sense.”
Sure, Jeanine. Sure.
The #JusticeForJohnnyDepp crowd on Twitter celebrated, of course, while the #IStandWithAmberHeard bunch decried the jury’s decision.
Maybe that’ll be the end of it. Maybe this will fizzle out eventually. I’d like to think so.
And then, of course, something else will take its place. With luck, something more important or at least less lurid. But I wouldn’t count on it.