WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal and his wife want to keep the couple's $30 million defamation lawsuit against online gossip columnist Matt Drudge from moving out of the capital.
Blumenthal and his wife, Jacqueline Jordan Blumenthal, first filed a libel suit in August after Drudge wrote in his Drudge Report about rumors of alleged "spousal abuse" by Blumenthal.
On Wednesday, attorneys for the couple argued in U.S. District Court that Drudge knowingly targeted his stories to the capital so it would damage the reputation of his client. They opposed Drudge's motion to move the case to his home state of California.
"He has purposely directed these comments to the District to have an effect on Sidney Blumenthal," said William McDaniel.
Drudge's attorneys told U.S. Magistrate Paul Friedman that the cost of trying the case in Washington would be too high and that the Blumenthals' suit was backed by a "White House armada." They called the libel case a veiled attempt by the Clinton administration to stop Drudge's investigative reporting.
"I don't know how one goes to begin to fight a lawsuit that's being driven by the highest office in the land," Drudge said before the hearing.
Friedman did not indicate when he would rule on the motions.
The Blumenthals sued after Drudge on Aug. 10 alleged that Blumenthal "has a spousal abuse past that has been effectively covered up." Drudge quoted an unnamed Republican source as saying there were court records of Blumenthal's violence against his wife.
Blumenthal denied the account, and Drudge retracted the story about a day later.
Drudge sends his report by e-mail to a list of clients and posts it on the Internet as well as on America Online, from which he receives a $3,000 monthly payment. Drudge stands by his story on Blumenthal as an account of rumors that already had been floated in public.
"What Matt Drudge did in recirculating the bold rumor ... is not that much different from what the responsible media does every day," his attorney, Manuel Klausner, said in court.
But the judge stressed that public figures do not shed their protection from libel and have the right to take action. "Public figures have the right not to be defamed," he said.
The question of the Internet's role in reporting also surfaced Wednesday as AOL sought to defend its position that it could not be held responsible for the contents of The Drudge Report.
Blumenthal has sued AOL for posting the story, and his attorneys cited the company for "lack of regulation" of the information it provides.
McDaniel said by paying Drudge, AOL bears responsibility in whole or in part for his report.
AOL, which filed a motion for the suit to be thrown out, said the online service had no input into Drudge's stories.
"It couldn't be any clearer that AOL is not responsible for creation or development of Mr. Drudge's Drudge Report," AOL attorney Patrick Carome said. He added that holding online providers accountable for the massive flow of information would cripple their ability to encourage diverse ideas.