‘Depp v. Heard’ Is All About Reputation

Thom Weidlich 05.05.22


The soap opera known as the Depp v. Heard trial shows you how hard it can be to fight for your reputation in a courtroom. The massive libel trial — a rarity — between actors and former spouses Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has been, to say the least, contentious. It also raises issues about litigation communications.

The proceedings, which began with jury selection April 11, have gained wide attention on traditional and social media. Depp sued Heard (both pictured) for a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post calling herself a “public figure representing domestic violence.” She didn’t name Depp in the article, but it was pretty clear she was calling him the perp.

Depp sued for libel for $50 million. Heard countersued for $100 million, arguing that Depp, through his counsel, defamed her by claiming the abuse allegations were a hoax.

The trial is being livestreamed by several outlets and people are apparently glued to the drama. In terms of litigation communications, this typically makes it difficult to emphasize one aspect or another of the day’s testimony, although in this case the lawyers aren’t talking to the press.

Taking Sides

Obviously, observers have taken sides, but it’s fair to say that so far Depp has gotten the better press and social-media coverage. He testified that Heard was violent against him, including severing the tip of his finger with a thrown vodka bottle. There was also testimony that Heard hasn’t turned over to charity her $7 million divorce settlement as she said she did, which didn’t go over well.

Headline on a New York Post column: “Even If Johnny Depp Loses the Amber Heard Trial, He Could Be Winning Back His Reputation.”

The libel case, naturally, is all about damage to reputation and the ramifications thereof. For his part, Depp has weathered much testimony (some his own) about his drug and alcohol use. He has denied the domestic-violence allegations and testified that he sued to clear his name (he lost a similar trial in London against U.K. newspaper The Sun, which called him a “wife-beater”). Both actors are trying to show their careers have been harmed by the other side.


An important point in terms of communicating courtroom goings-on is that Heard only started putting on her case Tuesday. She herself only started testifying yesterday. The coverage was bound to appear lopsided when Depp was telling his side of the story — though Heard’s lawyers have been energetic in their cross-examinations.

On Sunday the New York Post broke the story that, after court last Thursday, Heard fired her crisis-PR firm and hired a new one. The Post referred to “a fiery social-media mob that turned against Heard” and quoted unnamed sources saying that she “doesn’t like bad headlines” and is “frustrated with her story not being told effectively.”

Given that it takes time to get up to speed on such matters, the switch was probably ill advised. But we don’t know yet. We’ll have to see how the story unfolds.

Photo Credit: Bakounine/Shutterstock

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