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Journalists feel the effect of President Trump’s perception of libel

By Amanda Ramirez

Staff Writer

Donald Trump might take action on his negative views toward the media by “opening up libel laws” during his presidency. Many times throughout Mr. Trump’s campaign trail, the public has noticed his libel threats upon journalists. One example is from a Donald Trump rally in Fort Worth, Texas on Feb. 26, 2016, which gave insight of his thoughts and plans for the media.

“I’ll tell you what, I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met,”  he said at the rally, according to Business Insider.

Business Insider also recorded that Mr. Trump went on to say, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.

However, he contradicts his statement of “…we can sue them and win lots of money” by also saying, “With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people, but I’m not taking money, I’m not taking their money” at the same rally in Fort Worth, Texas.

During this rally, Mr. Trump mentioned that he plans to change libel laws in the United States so that he can have an easier time suing news organizations for writing “purposefully negative, horrible, and false articles.” In order to understand what Mr. Trump’s future intentions of weakening libel laws are, it is important to understand what libel is in the first place.

According to the Student Press Law Center, libel is the publication of a false statement of fact that seriously harms someone’s reputation.

* What are the steps to sue for libel?  

  1. Has been published
  2. Identifies a specific individual
  3. Is false
  4. Asserts a fact
  5. Causes serious harm to a reputation
  6. Shows — at a minimum — that a journalist acted unreasonably, that he or she was somehow at fault.

Mr. Trump believed that he could sue the New York Times for an article written about him, but that article did not meet the libel requirements.

This threat to the New York Times began with a video from 2005 that recently went viral as it revealed Mr. Trump’s ‘locker-room banter’ and derogatory language to describe women. After the video surfaced, the New York Times released an article including additional claims of Trump sexually assaulting women.

After the release of the New York Times article, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, threatened to sue the New York Times for libel in a letter stating, “Your article is reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel per se,”

Considering this article “falls clearly into the realm of public service journalism,” as spokesperson for the The New York Times Eileen Murphy mentioned in a responding statement, The New York Times will not renounce the article from their website. In other words, since the purpose of journalism is to inform the public, it would be a disservice to hide these allegations from the people. Therefore, The New York Times will continue to stand by this article.

David McCraw, vice president and assistant general counsel of The New York Times, responded to the letter from Mr. Trump’s lawyer to explain why their article is not libel. In Mr. McCraw’s response letter, he argued that The New York Times cannot be sued for libel in damaging Mr. Trump’s reputation because he has publicly created that reputation for himself in other statements he has made.

“Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself,” wrote Mr. McCraw.

With these requirements in mind, Mr. Trump’s idea of libel in this scenario does not fit the true definition. Just because what the media writes might not always flatter Mr. Trump, as long as the information reported is proven to be truthful, journalists will be protected from Donald Trump’s libel threats.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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