Opinion: Expanding the libel laws would undermine journalists

Opinion – The Liberty Champion

It is no secret that President Donald Trump and many media outlets have been at each other’s throats for the duration of his presidency. Trump singlehandedly popularized the term “fake news,” a term he uses frequently when describing the media’s negative and misguiding coverage of himself. 

“Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost,” Trump tweeted in September 2018. “Don’t know why Washington politics don’t change libel laws?”

Libel has been legally defined by the court as “publishing an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others.”

However, sadly for Trump, it is much harder for a public figure to win a libel lawsuit than it is for a private individual. This was decided in the Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. 

In this case, the Court decided that proof of actual malice is required in a libel lawsuit involving public officials or matters of public concern. Later, in Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, the burden of proof was put on the public figure to prove that malice exists in the case of an untruth being published. 

Earlier this year, Justice Clarence Thomas discussed the current libel laws, saying the Courts decision had no basis in the Constitution. However, based in the Constitution or not, the current libel laws serve an important purpose. They exist to protect two of the most fundamental American rights: freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

The justices involved in the New York Times v. Sullivan case wrote that the limitations on libel laws …

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