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Measuring Civil Penalties in Units of "OJs"
Putting the Alex Jones verdict in perspective using anything but the metric system
We have spoken at length on HWFO about the human mind’s inability to comprehend large numbers, and how to ameliorate that by using different units. A billion is a thousand millions, but when we read or hear “billion” it’s just a swap of a letter, so we don’t understand it. Even a thousand of something is hard to visualize. To do this properly, we need to compare large numbers against other large numbers, so we can establish an appropriate perspective. We did this once with the government, by comparing the federal outlays for different programs against the envisioned cost of Trump’s proposed “border wall.”
We discovered that annual defense outlays cost 164.8 Border Walls, the federal deficit amounts to 191.5 Border Walls, and NASA only costs 3.8 Border Walls.
We did it again when we developed a baseline measurement for civil unrest equal to one “Mostly Peaceful Summer of 2020.”
We discovered that the Rodney King Riots, mostly confined to Los Angeles, equated a 91/100 as compared to the entire 2020 Floyd protest block, the January 6th “Insurrection” only managed 6% of the Floyd protests, and that the Floyd protests generally fell on the same class of damage and civil unrest as a category two Atlantic hurricane.
This same visualization process is trivially easy for the recent Alex Jones civil penalties related to InfoWars’s coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting, and the obvious and easy baseline is to The Juice.
Trial of the Century
In 1995, famed NFL running back O.J. Simpson was acquitted from the charge of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, in one of the most publicized trials in human history outside of certain impeachment proceedings. Some people hold that the acquittal was racially motivated, in light of the aforementioned Rodney King riots. After the trial, the Goldman family filed a civil suit against O.J., which he lost. The judge awarded 33.5 million dollars to the Goldmans in compensatory and punitive damages, which would amount to an inflation adjusted 56.5 million dollars in 2021 money. Who knows what that adjustment looks like today.
This shall be our benchmark unit. The civil award for the trial of the century involving a double homicide by a famous sports celebrity is 56.5 million dollars inflation adjusted to 2021 money, or “One OJ.”
In 2015 famous wrestler Hulk Hogan sued Gawker for releasing a sex tape he made screwing Bubba the Love Sponge’s wife. If you can’t believe that sentence is true, Google it after popping a bag of popcorn. The case awarded Hogan 140 million dollars, although he eventually settled for much less because Gawker went out of business over it. Gawker got dinged for 2.8 OJs for publishing a celebrity sex tape.
In 2019 the blue tribe media got a hold of a long video of a native American and the Black Hebrew Israelites (who incidentally are the origin material for Kanye’s recent antisemitism) harassing some kids from Covington Catholic High School wearing MAGA hats. The blue media edited it down to make it look like the kids were evil, and then plastered it all across the country to make clickbait fake news blood money. The MAGA hat kids sued for 250 million and settled for some undisclosed amount. Let’s call it 250 million and say the clickbait blood money was worth 4.6 OJs.
In 2020 Daimler AG and Mercadez-Benz were caught systemically faking their emissions tests on a quarter million diesel vehicles, which is probably a pretty dumb lawsuit to be honest because diesels are more fuel efficient, and the EPA rules should probably be more about pollution-per-mile than pollution-per-whatever-unit-they-use. Nevertheless, they settled for 875 million dollars, a price tag of 16.3 OJs.
In 2009 the Justice Department rang up Pfizer to the tune of 1.3 billion dollars in criminal fines for marketing drugs for off label uses, and an additional civil settlement of a billion for paying kickbacks to doctors who would proscribe off label drugs to people that might not need them. Back then we had less of an understanding that most doctors are basically just drug pushing pharma reps than we do now, so I’m not even sure if this would stick in today’s climate. Since we’re only talking about civil suits here, this award tops out at an inflation adjusted 22.3 OJs.
In 1989 a drunk driving boat captain rammed the Exxon Valdez into a reef and dumped the boat’s contents into Prince William Sound, saturating the coast with Alaskan crude and killing innumerable fish, birds, bears, and such. The initial civil penalty topped out at 5 billion but got litigated and relitigated in courts up and down the chain of command. The final award was 1.5 billion, clocking in at 49 OJs.
The most recent one in everyone’s mind, because it’s so deeply tied to the culture wars between NPC egregores on Twitter, is Alex Jones. For a week or two after the Sandy Hook shooting, Jones ran stories on InfoWars saying the thing might have been a false flag and wasn’t a shooting at all. Ostensibly for that transgression the parents of the victims were awarded 965 million dollars, or 17.1 inflation adjusted OJs.
Here’s a graph.
The problem with comparing these things is that civil awards are somewhat predicated on the accused’s ability to pay. 1.5 billion for wiping your ass with Prince William Sound is not a lot for an oil company that grosses 260 billion a year give or take, but the original damages awarded in the OJ trial were over three times his established net worth. The Alex Jones and Gawker awards both suffered from the same curious conundrum to each other, that both InfoWars and Gawker were valued in full before the damages were awarded, but the fact that the damages were awarded reduced their value to well below the damages, causing Gawker to go bankrupt. It will be interesting to see how Alex manages to come up with the money for the award in his case, given that he has been universally deplatformed. Are the parents of Sandy Hook victims now more inclined to let Alex Jones speak, so they can get paid? It also seems as if the damages awarded in these cases are as tied to public opinion and the whims of the media mob as anything else.
When the Alex Jones award was issued, I saw a lot of culture warrior traffic comparing its very large sum to the OJ award. It seems to me based on my semi random sample set that the OJ award may simply have just been low, or artificially suppressed by his relative low net worth to the others in the list. It may be that O. J. Simpson not only got away with murder, but got away with not paying much for it either, by spending his NFL wealth before the murder.
But it was the “Trial of the Century,” so using it as a measuring stick seems relatively apt to me.