Conor Oberst

Late last year, an anonymous reader left a comment on the website XOJane claiming that she’d been raped by a rock star 10 years ago, when she was 16 and a virgin. She later went on to name that accused rock star: Conor Oberst, then touring with Bright Eyes. That commenter never discussed pressing charges or even announced her own identity, but she did briefly start a Tumblr about it before deleting both that Tumblr and her original comments. Oberst’s publicists issued a statement categorically denying that he’d done anything of the sort and claiming that he was considering pursuing legal action against her. The commenter’s identity eventually came out, and now Oberst is doing exactly what he said he would, filing a defamation lawsuit against the woman in New York federal court. In the suit, as the Associated Press reports, Oberst complains that the comments, and the media coverage of it, have “damaged his career, especially in New York where most of the major music publishing houses are headquartered.” But in a statement, he claims that the suit isn’t for monetary purposes, even though he’s seeking monetary damages; he says that he’ll donate any winnings to charity. Here’s the statement:

Today Conor Oberst filed a libel lawsuit in a New York federal court against Joanie Faircloth, a resident of North Carolina, who falsely accused him of rape in the comments section of the xoJane website in December of 2013 and again, some days later, on her Tumblr page. The suit counters Faircloth’s baseless allegations and states that Oberst never had any physical contact with her, either at the concert in Durham, NC at which she claims the attack took place, or at any other time. The only connection between Oberst and Faircloth was one of artist and fan – a fan who has posted laudatory comments about Oberst elsewhere online, including describing attending his band’s concert as the “Best memory ever!”

The lawsuit filed today outlines Faircloth’s history of inventing stories and personalities online in order to gain attention. Although her false statements about Oberst have since been deleted from the locations where they were initially posted online, Oberst’s suit alleges that her malicious lies spread across the Internet and are archived by multiple blogs. Through his attorneys, Oberst requested that Faircloth recant her false accusations, but she ignored the requests. Oberst has thus been forced to proceed with this libel suit in order to set the record straight and to clear his name.

Oberst is seeking to promote the truth and repair the distress this has brought upon him and his family. Oberst intends to donate the proceeds of this suit to charities benefitting the victims of violence against women.

I’m no legal expert, but doesn’t this lawsuit place the burden of proof on Oberst? Like, doesn’t he now have to prove that he didn’t rape her? It’s also the first time I’ve ever heard of in which someone sued an anonymous commenter, and I could see it having some bearing on what sort of things people get to say on the internet.

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Comments (36)
  1. Considering how the last comment thread on this subject went down, why don’t we all just

    • I just went back and read through that. This one from Rob Casper is my favorite:

      “we had internal discussions at Stereogum as to whether we should post the story”

      yet probably zero discussions concerning whether to post anything further about r kelly, apparently

      Also,

      An accusation like this could haunt Conor Oberst his entire career, in much the same way that Tom Breihan will always be haunted by his posts on Stereogum.

      just because I like Tom jokes.

  2. no, the burden of proof is upon the prosecution or the accuser.

  3. I am also no legal expert, but my understanding is that he does not.
    Basically, he is saying that someone spread a story about him that is damaging to his career.
    I think that he only has to prove that her stories are damaging to his career, then she would have to prove that the stories aren’t lies for them to not count as defamation…or something like that.

    Oberst is accusing her of spreading a story that damages him, that’s all he has to prove, I think.

    • Well, he’ll also have to maintain that her story is false, of course. But he doesn’t have to prove it, because it would be impossible to. How does someone prove that they’ve never met someone? It would be on her to provide evidence that the rape occurred.

      Not that it matter too much, this is going to soon be settled or dropped.

      • I’ll bet your right. My guess is that he’s filing the claim, not because he thinks he’s going to win, but because it’s an emphatic and public way of denying the woman’s story.

    • Armchair lawyer here, IIRC American libel law requires that the damaging story be false. Basically if her accusations are true it doesn’t matter if they damaged his career or not, only if they’re false does he have a case.

      • It’s been awhile since I took my Media Law class in summer school, but I recall that winning a libel case is VERY hard to do.

        Almost positive it’ll be up to Oberst’s camp to, as you mentioned, prove the statement is false.

        Then he has to prove it damaged his name. Now, even though I agree blogs cycling the original allegation is a bad thing, it could end up being used to help him win this case. Imagine Stereogum comments being used in a public court!

        Either way, let’s watch this unfold and leave judging to the judges. Instead, let’s grab our pitchforks and lit torches and storm Foxygen’s camp!

      • So, if he’s perusing it then his lawyers must have a strong case.

    • I’m a lawyer – Mr. Oberst will have the burden of proving that Ms. Faircloth lied (or spoke with reckless/negligent disregard for the truth, which is kinda impossible here). The burden he’ll have to satisfy is one of “clear and convincing evidence” e.g. one of the higher burdens of proof out there. To quote Wikipedia: “Clear and convincing proof means that the evidence presented by a party during the trial must be highly and substantially more probable to be true than not and the trier of fact must have a firm belief or conviction in its factuality.”

      If anyone is interested in the role that truth/falsity requirements play in defamation/libel cases, here’s a pretty good (if lengthy) primer, beginning on page 851: http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2220&context=wmlr Long story short: it makes defamation/libel much more difficult for the Plaintiff, and results in a lot of dismissals and summary judgments.

  4. What a sad mess

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    • Well I, for one, was looking at his name differently when I saw it in the media ever since that story. So, assuming there are tens of thousands of people out there who could say the same, it’s entirely justifiable to say that it has significantly damaged his career. If he knows he didn’t do it, and can prove that she is spreading such heinous lies about him for attention, I say go after her with everything you’ve got. And then give the proceeds to the people who rely on the general public to take accusations like this very seriously.

  6. The dangers of posting uncorroborated stories you find on the interwebs all willy nilly on your own site.

    It’s easy to say he should ignore it up until sites like Stereogum start running pieces saying “Did Conor Oberst rape a girl?” and “True or not, this will haunt his career forever.”

    Suddenly its not just some girl on her Tumblr, but a big, well known music website owned by an even bigger more well known parent group.

    It doesn’t take much for things to get out of hand with the internet these days.

  7. I want to sue Conor Oberst for that haircut.

  8. If she is lying, I hope she gets fucking crucified. People shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this kind of shit, even if they are teenage girls.

    • You’re a real nice guy. Keep it up.

    • Falsely accusing someone of something like this is one of the shittiest things it is possible to do IMO. It stains someone’s character, possibly irreparably, at least for a long time afterwards, and just makes it even harder for people who have actually been sexually abused to get justice. It’s sickening.

  9. If he wins this case, the real losers are the victims of rape (whether this girl belongs to that group or not). It will only fuel the rape apologists out there (“See! Girls make it up for attention!”), and possibly provide rapists another option: defamation of character lawsuits. It helps that he’s donating the money to charities for victims of violence against women, but it’s a still a very unfortunate situation. At most, all he’s going to be able to prove is that she can’t prove he did it (which, again, is damaging to the public’s perception of the severity of rape).

    • That is a bit of convoluted logic. False rape claims do happen and should be actionable, to ignore them is as bad as ignoring rape.

    • You act as if rape accusations are a rare, almost non-existent things. Do you think people who are wrongly accused of rape should just accept it and have their lives ruined? People have a right to defend themselves against horrible accusations.

    • I don’t fault him for bringing the suit. I agree, false claims do happen, and it’s certainly not rare as one would hope. I’m simply pointing out that this suit, whether it’s called for or not, could potentially be detrimental. Rape is a very serious matter, and my fear is that this case will not be treated in the media with the tone it deserves. A situation like this does little to further the cause of victim advocacy (unless, of course, the girl is able to prove that he is, in fact, guilty). So again, it’s just an overall unfortunate situation.

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  11. I have no idea how the legal arguments would play out either. And honestly the phrase “I’m no legal expert” should have only been followed up with “so I won’t presume to state a legal opinion on the matter”.

    While it’s terrible that rape goes under-reported and under prosecuted, the case is no longer about rape. It’s about libel.

    • The legal process is supposed to be simple enough that it can be understood and reasonably discussed by average citizens. You can read a couple of Wikipedia pages and have a good enough idea of what’s going on to state an opinion. It’s not like we’re practicing law here.

  12. Of course he should file a suit.

    Falsely accusing somebody of rape is almost as heinous as rape itself.

    Allowing those kinds of accusations to stand simply on the merit of ‘oh well, it’s the internet, lol, what can you do?’ is ridiculous.
    Tumblr users mindlessly sharing something they’re in no position to verify represents everything that’s wrong with the internet, and in a perfect world, should be punishable as well.

    • You can’t even repeat something somebody else said if you don’t know for a fact that it’s true? Your perfect world sounds like a totalitarian nightmare.

      • If you’re going to mindlessly spread malicious rumors that could destroy a person’s life, you should be held accountable. I don’t believe in propagating misinformation and slander under the banner of free speech.

  13. Look, he is not just suing her out of the blue. It clearly states that they gave her the option to take back what she said, and she ignored it. Maybe she has good evidence to fight back, lets just wait and see what happens.

  14. Everyone seems to be ignoring this one bit though that to me makes her case very weak “The lawsuit filed today outlines Faircloth’s history of inventing stories and personalities online in order to gain attention.”… Tell me why a group of lawyers (This is not just oberst himself) would issue a statement regarding libel and then commit libel in the statement? My guess is they have proof her her doing this before somehow, weather it be internet history records, or other musicians who have said she has tried to do this to them, and somehow have proof [maybe an internet conversation or something?] that she was not telling the truth. They are not going to commit libel in a statement regarding libel, she could easily do the same thing back. If you do not think this history can be used as evidence you are out of your mind. I WILL SAY THOUGH, at the end of the story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” the boy did cry wolf because there was one, maybe this is her real wolf? or maybe she was just crying wolf. lets just wait and find out.

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