Vinay Menon: However Johnny Depp’s defamation case ends, Amber Heard has already lost in the court of public opinion


As an alleged victim of domestic abuse, Amber Heard has a new problem.

She is losing in the court of public opinion. Her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, is suing her for $50 million. The defamation case, set to resume May 16, has been ugly from the get-go as both parties have graphically detailed allegations they claim to have suffered from the other.

He says she put a cigarette out on his cheek and hurled a bottle that severed a fingertip. She says he slapped her and conducted a “cavity search” while manically hunting for cocaine he believed she was hiding inside her body.

I have never seen two celebrities in greater need of Ellie.

We mere mortals are often riddled with envy when we imagine the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Watching this case will cure you of that. There was a moment last week when I kissed my tuna sandwich and thanked God for being poor after listening to these two recount their toxic relationship.

Sure, my wife and I may squabble from time to time.

But nobody is ransacking vaginas or losing fingers.

Which brings us back to Amber Heard’s new problem: Credibility.

Yes, there are people in her corner. But based on social media, especially TikTok posts, Depp is clearly “winning.” Most observers now believe he is the real victim. Heard has been cast into the role of villain.

Or as Variety reported this week: “A bizarre and disturbing trend has swept across TikTok over the last several days: Dozens of posts on the short-form video service — some amassing millions of views — have used video or audio from Amber Heard’s wrenching testimony in the Johnny Depp trial, with the creators of the videos dramatically reenacting (sic) it, performing dances to it or otherwise mocking her.”

Ms. Heard testified last week. The internet jury rejected it.

It’s strange to analyze this case by hashtag. #JusticeForJohnny has routinely trended across platforms. Meanwhile, as Variety noted, videos with the hashtag “amberturd” have racked up 1.2 billion views.

The consensus is clear: Johnny good, Amber bad.

She might have a lower approval rating than Vladimir Putin.

This could explain why Heard fired and replaced her PR team on the eve of testifying, which itself is not exactly smart PR. Right or wrong, Ms. Heard senses public sentiment is stacked against her and she’s about to serve a life sentence for false accusations. In the #MeToo era, she may end up demolishing the “believe all women” edict because she is not believable.

Again, I wasn’t there. I’m not Team Depp or Team Heard. I do think he should stick to Mountain Dew because anything stronger seems to spook the gremlins running riot in his skull.

But substance abuse is very different from domestic abuse.

And the evidence presented so far suggests that, at the very least, Ms. Heard was also an abuser. Media stories this week have characterized the TikTok trend of ridiculing her testimony as “gross,” “unfair,” “creepy,” “demeaning” and “disgusting.” I would agree — if she’s telling the truth.

I hate tacking on that “if” caveat. I do not want to engage in the horrific act of revictimizing a victim. That would be gross and disgusting. But let’s pretend I was on that jury in Virginia. Honestly, this is what I thought after Heard’s testimony: that was one of the worst acting performances I’ve ever seen. The melodramatic flourishes, the lunges at existential doom, the sobbing with no tears, the frozen facial contortions, the convenient gaps in memory, the community theatre gesticulation — it all lacked credibility.

She was saying stuff that should be chilling. But she sounded like she was doing a table read and hadn’t properly committed to the script. Now, maybe her ordeal with Depp was so traumatic that it has turned a professional actress into a terrible actress. I have no idea. All I’m saying is, if I were a juror, I would be alarmed by her testimony not for the allegations contained therein, but because it sounded like she was lying through her teeth.

That’s not to say this is a slam-dunk for Depp. The burden of proof in any defamation case is tricky. This one is especially tricky since Depp is suing over a 2018 op-ed Heard wrote for the Washington Post in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse but never mentioned him by name. Still, he claims that column put a storm cloud over his character that has translated into losing movie roles and, ultimately, his career. She must also feel reputational harm because she is countersuing for $100 million.

That’s a lot of potential damages from two claims that have already diminished both parties. A proper post-mortem must wait until all the sordid dust settles. I’m just glad this marriage didn’t end in a murder-suicide.

But defamation cases can wreak havoc long before the verdict arrives.

And in the court of public opinion, Amber Heard has already lost.


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