His life was threatened, his business ruined and his personal property destroyed. People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals even suggested he be hanged. In the end, though, Minnesota dentist Dr. Walter Palmer was vindicated. After a lengthy review process by Zimbabwe Environmental Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, Palmer was cleared of all pending charges after he shot a lion on a guided hunt.
Soon after the story broke, Muchinguri-Kashiri said Zimbabwean authorities would seek Palmer's extradition so he could be tried. However, it was never clear what crimes he was charged with. Lions are legal game in Zimbabwe. As it turned out, Palmer had all the necessary permits and followed all the laws he was required to.
That didn't seem to matter to the tens of thousands who posted threats and hateful comments on social media outlets. Not surprisingly, most of the hatred directed at Palmer came mere days after his successful hunt and months before the case worked its way through the legal system. No one, except for Palmer and his guides, knew the entire story.
Even the media jumped on the bandwagon. Thousands of stories circulated across the Internet and in newspapers and magazines throughout the world. Many of them were littered with innuendo, false claims and sketchy facts.
That's not surprising, says US Sportsmen's Alliance executive director Nick Pinizzotto. The biggest stories are always the most sensational and reporters often rely on hearsay without verifying any facts. Who can't resist reading about a "rich" American doctor who pays $50,000 to "illegally" shoot a famous, beloved lion?
"I was on CBS This Morning live when I was asked if they (Palmer and outfitter Theo Bronkhorst) dragged bait through the park to get the lion to follow it out of the park," says Pinizzotto. "Nobody knew at that point."
Now that we know more facts and Palmer has been cleared, will any members of the media apologize?
"Don't hold your breath," says Pinozzotto. "That's not how our media works. Once there's no controversy, there's no story. They simply move on to the next big story."
Although a number of them have covered Palmer's exoneration, most stories were brief and were little more than a side note to the original story. Few, if any, offered corrections, while some continued to suggest that Palmer was guilty for committing the alleged sin of killing a legal game animal. One story included the following lead sentence: "Walter Palmer has officially gotten away with it."
The major media outlets may have moved on and Palmer has reportedly returned to work, but the hate continues from anti-hunters. A number of Facebook pages directed at Palmer are still active. One, titled "Shame Lion Killer Walter Palmer and River Bluff Dental," has nearly 33,000 "likes." A comment posted on November 17 read, "Hey palmer... are u planning for your Thanksgiving feast? well enjoy it while you can... we are still here waiting for you."
Another is titled "Walter Palmer the Lion Killer" and yet another is "Walter Palmer: The Cowardly Dentist Who Killed Cecil The Lion." They might be funny if they weren't filled with veiled threats and vile comments that continue even after Palmer was cleared.
Pinizzotto doesn't expect the threats to stop. Nor does he expect any apologies from those who posted hateful comments and lies directed at Palmer.
"They don't care if a hunt was legal. That's irrelevant to them. They simply hate the idea of hunting or anyone killing animals for any reason," he adds. "Dr. Palmer is a convenient and high-profile target of their hatred."
While the rhetoric directed at Palmer may subside over time, Pinizzotto says anti-hunting organizations that capitalized on the dead lion are using their new-found fame to push for other issues. One anti-Palmer Facebook page has shifted from threatening Palmer to pushing for the ouster of US Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe. He happens to be a hunter.
That's not surprising. It's not the only disturbing piece of this, either.
Many in the hunting community also turned their back on Palmer long before the facts came to light. Safari Club International suspended Palmer's membership in July, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter. SCI released a statement soon after, saying, "those who intentionally take wildlife illegally should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent allowed by law." The investigation had yet to be completed.
Although Palmer was cleared in October, SCI has not publicly reinstated his membership or made any statements regarding the dentist since they suspended his membership. Representatives of the conservation group did not return phone calls requesting comment.
One high-profile member of the conservation community who wished to remain anonymous derided SCI's decision to drop Palmer before all the facts were gathered.
"They did the exact same thing anti-hunters and the media did. They were judge, jury and executioner before we knew all the facts," he said. "That sends a pretty stark message to others who may be in the same boat in the future. Don't expect support, even if you are innocent."