Trump, Libel Laws, and The Future of American Journalism

The Future of American Journalism Hangs In The Balance Under President Trump

Last year, when both parties were holding their respective primary elections, Donald Trump held a rally in Fort Worth Texas in which he had this to say:

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win… 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. We’re going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

Now, a year later, and with a President Elect Donald Trump, my mind drifts back to that rally.

There is no question that our nation’s media has an issue in regards of being biased and in many cases as we have seen over this past election cycle, false reporting.

So one might hear what Mr Trump was saying and think to themselves “Finally! Someone is going to do something about the biased and untrue media!”

To those of you who think that, please allow me to clarify something:

Libel is legally defined as a “published FALSE statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation.”

Libel is not to be confused with biased reporting. They are two totally different things. In fact the libel laws that Trump was referring to and wanting to do away with, has little to nothing to do with biased reporting.

In 1964 the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case “New York Times vs. Sullivan”, that in order to sue a news organization on the basis of libel, one has to be able to prove that the published information is in fact false, and was published with malicious intent.

The reason for this law was to protect journalists from being sued by the corrupt corporations and individuals that they were investigating. Before this law was established anyone who wrote about an individual or a corporation in a negative light risked being sued even if the story was true.

The Supreme Courts ruling was a perfectly reasonable ruling and has protected many investigative journalists from being sued by corrupt individuals, while still allowing legitimate cases of false reporting to be contested.

Let me reiterate this. By repealing current libel laws, Journalists would be open to attack not for writing libel, but for any and all writing that is considered damaging to a person’s reputation regardless of rather or not it is true.

This is what Trump was suggesting.

This is a problem.

Do I agree with Donald Trump that we have a problem with the media in this nation? Absolutely. But repealing libel laws is not the way to fix it.

Such a ruling would hinder the investigations of thousands of journalists not only working for the mainstream media, but independent and non profit news rooms as well; undermining the very spirit of journalism and our 1st Amendment rights.

Rather or not our new President Elect plans to follow through with such a claim is yet to be seen; but rest assured, Donald Trump has no love lost for the American Mainstream Media. I have no doubt that a President Trump will waste no time in taking action against it; regardless of the collateral damage.

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