A Legal Analysis of Tiger King, Episode 3: “The Secret”

May 20, 2020

By: Thomas K. Rinaldi and Joshua M.C. O'Neill

In second grade, I learned that sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. After drafting a waiver and release for Joe Exotic, we would next need to discuss why he should reconsider publishing the music video, “Here Kitty Kitty” – or any other video that accuses Carole Baskin of killing her former husband.

It’s one thing for every Clemson or LSU fan to call their opponents “tiger bait.” It’s quite another, however, to claim a competing business owner killed and then fed her husband to tigers, as Mr. Exotic does in this episode. In so doing, he exposes himself and the G.W. Zoo to defamation claims. In general, defamation involves a false and defamatory statement about another, without reasonable care shown to the truth or falsity of those statements, resulting in actual damage to that person.  

Carole Baskin could claim Mr. Exotic’s depiction of her feeding human remains to a grown tiger in “Here Kitty Kitty” was defamatory. It is doubtful Mr. Exotic could make a persuasive case that he wasn’t referring specifically to Carole Baskin when he sang, “You can’t find this taste in the zoo .... Well, mama Carole she sure loves you .... So if you’re ever down in Tampa on a big cat refuge, don’t pick a fight with your wife ....  no remains but that won’t change the fact that Don sure ain’t comin’ back....”

Who (other than Carole Baskin) doesn’t love a man with a mullet, dark sunglasses and a priest collar singing a country song about a murder mystery? The tune is rather catchy. But only in a best-case (and highly improbable) scenario, would Carole Baskin accept the lovely tiger-print dress and floral headband worn by the actress in the music video to settle her defamation claim. In all likelihood, she would seek monetary relief including punitive damages.

Don’t be like Joe. Realize that, in certain circumstances, words can cause significant damage. If you feel that you have been defamed, or someone has accused you of defamation, please feel free to contact Thomas K. Rinaldi in Florida (a.k.a., the “Attorney Ordinary”) or Joshua O’Neill in New York to discuss.