Defamation: “Can Trump Change Libel Laws?”

Source: Can Trump Change Libel Laws? – The New York Times


Yesterday I came in praise of Linda Greenhouse, who used to cover the Supreme Court for the New York Times.

Today I come in praise of Adam Liptak, who is now the NYT Supreme Court reporter.

I’m glad Liptak has once again–and in limpid language–given us all an education in libel law. It’s always good to be reminded, even if the instigation for doing so bears the label “Trump.”

Here’s my favorite section of today’s article (which refers to the earlier contretemps when Trump threatened to sue the Times; the Times’s lawyer’s response is so great I’ve bolded it):

Beyond the actual malice rule, Mr. Trump would have to prove injury to his reputation. As Judge Gorsuch put it in a 2011 opinion, libel law is “about protecting a good reputation honestly earned.”

The state of Mr. Trump’s reputation arose during the presidential campaign, when his lawyers asked for a retraction of an article in The Times that reported on complaints from two women who said Mr. Trump had touched them inappropriately.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers called the article libelous and seemed to threaten to sue. David McCraw, a lawyer for The Times, responded that Mr. Trump’s reputation was too tarnished to allow a successful libel suit.

Libel (written trashy lies) and slander (spoken trashy lies) are sub-categories of defamation. I’ll always read anything about defamation because I was once sued for it–for things I wrote on this blog about a man I in fact was suing for many things but not defamation.

Thus I became quite familiar with definitions of defamation. Since I hadn’t lied about him–never mind maliciously–had used a pseudonym, and could prove the facts for everything I wrote, I knew he had no chance of winning and had filed his lawsuit to cost me money, because my lawsuit against him was costing him money.

He didn’t win. Within five months, my lawyer got a summary dismissal of the lawsuit.

And what did this cost me? That is, did the man who sued me get the vengeance I was pretty sure he sought?

No. He never found this out and won’t unless he still reads my blog, but my defense cost me 56 bucks. Which was how much FedEx charged me to send all the necessary documents to my lawyer.

And who retained and paid that lawyer? My insurance company, because–and here’s a major tip for anybody who writes and publishes–my policy provided coverage for liability beyond having a dear, dear friend trip in my kitchen, break an arm and sue me. (And subsequently lose my friendship forever.)

After my adventure as a defendant in a defamation lawsuit, I doubled my liability ceiling.

But a warning: not all insurance companies will defend you in such a lawsuit no matter what your policy reads so call your company rep up right now and make him or her state plainly whether they will or not.

If they won’t, find another insurance company.

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