Trump Once Again Threatens to Change Federal Libel Laws That Don’t Exist

In the latest in a long line of attacks on freedom of the press, President Trump has once again threatened today to change libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations, publishers, and others after the publication of an unflattering book.

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” Trump said.

Fortunately, there are two strong obstacles standing in his way. Chief among them is the First Amendment, which clearly protects freedom of the press. But the other main barrier is the inconvenient fact that there is no federal libel law for President Trump to bully Congress to change. Libel cases are based on state laws, which neither the president nor Congress has control over because of our nation’s federalist system.

The president no doubt has a very personal stake in this. Just last week, Trump’s private attorneys sent a threatening letter to the publisher of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” just before publication, warning of libel liability if the book were released — which of course it was.

The Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that the First Amendment raises a high bar for any laws that might infringe on the freedoms of speech and the press. And that bar is even higher for libel suits brought by public officials because of the power they wield in society. For a public official to win a libel suit, the plaintiff must not only show that the defendant published a false and defamatory statement but that the defendant did so maliciously.

In the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan, the court found that a journalist who published erroneous information about a public figure without knowing it was wrong was constitutionally protected. The justices wrote that limitations on libel laws reflect our “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhib­ited, robust, and wide‐open, and that it may well include vehe­ment, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” In a later case, the court said that if the legal system were to punish all false statements regardless of motive, it could “lead to intolerable self-censorship” by the press.

It’s a shame that the president continues to attempt to undermine one of the central tenets of our democracy. Luckily, the First Amendment and the press freedoms it protects aren’t going anywhere.

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Anonymous

A book is a book. Its not "press" even if its about a real person. If Trump can prove that the author or this book lied about him in order to cause him harm then that IS libel. Even at that, the media may have more leeway when it comes to libel than authors and regular citizens but they don't have carte blanch to fabricate stories and cause trouble.

Anonymous

Just maybe this is not about a President Trump! I am a senior citizen and lived in an era when just the NEWS was reported. That does happen anymore. I remember when they allowed commentary. The exaggerations and lies the press now tells has literally ruined our family’s relationship. We keep telling everyone to stop listen to the news. It is sickening. How can this believe anyone. You people are so determined to destroy our President you cannot think beyond him. There are many reasons, not just Trump. Why have we allowed race questions on forms? How is that allowed. I believe we are the only country that does this. We would have less race issues if we didn’t, you folks have got to stretch your thinking. Not to destroy others, but to help with truth.

Dr Diamond

Trump is now paving the way for us to take recourse in our courts."We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone," Trump-what about all the lies you said about President Obama birth.

Trixie

Trump airs his brain constantly but it does nothing to shake out the dustmites & cobwebs of yesteryear. His repetitive babbling always relates to people attacking him every which way. He is always unfairly targeted and offended for no good reason..Despite the opposite being true, nobody throws the truth in his face & forces him to hold it. He is gonna play with his fantasy boat until he wants to go inside. Making his audience listen to his tirades endless feeds his head so good. Who said a president needs a sharp mind and swift knowledge? Trump proves all you need to get into the WH is to fun a group of dopes by spouting off derogatory nicknames for the smarty pants who actually know how to run a country. And, a barrage of big & small fibs about everything under the sun keeps the nation confused and tripping over its tippy toes. Trump can keep playing clownie in a circus forever. Nobody will ever tell him playtime is over. He decides when people have had enough dumb dumb from him!

Anonymous

he should sue, will only cost him money and he won't win.

Anonymous

What about the libelous things *he* says in every speech ? Are they immune?

Anonymous

One should be accountable for knowingly living

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