One of the big topics of discussion lately is that Presidential hopeful Donald Trump took a direct shot at the media for hit-pieces and shoddy journalism, something anyone familiar with #GamerGate should recognize immediately. According to Trump, if he’s elected he would “open up” libel laws to go after outlets that purposefully lie and defame in their articles for the purpose of pushing an agenda.
Politico linked to the short part of the speech where Trump mentioned that he would be “open up” the libel laws in the United States. The clip is below.
Trump says he wants to “open up our libel laws” so he can sue news outlets and “win lots of money.” pic.twitter.com/AeWfSvPfi5
If you’re at work or hearing impaired, Trump stated…
“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. 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,
“You see, 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,” […] “We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”
This likely comes from the facet of Trump having attempted to sue for libel back in 2006, but the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence, with Trump stating that the libel laws in America were “unfair”, as reported by The New York Times.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot of chatter about the pros and cons of Trump’s latest statements.
On the con side many people noted that big corporations could easily use this to shutdown the press when negative reviews, editorials or detailed think pieces are published that are unflattering toward that company. Others pointed out that politicians could use this as a way to curb negative criticism against them by claiming that the press is libeling them.
However, Trump explicitly says “purposely negative” and “horrible and false articles”. It’s a very strict explanation. A perfect example of this is Caitlin Dewey’s article about Eron Gjoni and the case involving Zoe Quinn at the Washington Post. It was clearly detailed what parts of the article were false. In fact, many of the negative articles about #GamerGate contain easily refutable, purposefully negative falsehoods.
Under the current libel laws someone like Gjoni would have to prove that Dewey wrote the article with malicious intent to defame or publicly harm his reputation, which might result in loss of work, loss of financial stability or loss of well being.
Pursuing a libel case is expensive and difficult in America. As noted by Find Law, if various conditions are met a defamation or libel case can be pursued. Usually it includes injury, a concrete statement that can be cited, a statement that can be proven false and that the individual is unprivileged, in which Find Law describes…
“Lawmakers have decided that you cannot sue for defamation in certain instances when a statement is considered privileged. For example, when a witness testifies at trial and makes a statement that is both false and injurious, the witness will be immune to a lawsuit for defamation because the act of testifying“
Right now journalists have largely gone unchallenged, even when people like Jason Miller – one of the individuals who started the hashtag #NotYourShield to represent minorities – was supposedly fired from his job for having association with #GamerGate. The widely reviled reputation of the hashtag is based on the lies spread by the media that the individuals using the tag were engaged in criminal harassment, as depicted on the Wikipedia page.
At the moment there’s really no recourse for individuals to capably challenge the media who have spread easily identifiable falsehoods, especially when it comes to #GamerGate. From ABC News to the CBC, to NPR, to The Telegraph, to every other big and small media outlet out there, these outlets are protected under the First Amendment law, even if what they’re publishing is clearly false.
The upside to opening up the libel laws where purposeful hit-pieces are made for no other reason than to spread misinformation – like the Washington Post piece about #GamerGate and Eron Gjoni – could allow for individuals to challenge the media to either correct their ways or pay a heavy fine for engaging in defamation.
Just recently a non-judicial media institution in Quebec, Canada, known as the Quebec Press Council, recently defended a hit-piece published in 2014 by French-Canadian outlet Urbania. They stood by the lies published in that piece and basically closed the case citing that there was nothing wrong with the inaccuracies or misinformation spread by the editor-in-chief, Eric Samson.
If the libel laws were to work as they were intended (and that’s a serious long shot), then websites and publications who are caught misconstruing facts or actively abetting in conspiring to cover-up corruption, could turn from their ways due to being scared straight from a potential libel suit. They might even put in the effort in making sure that their pieces are fact-checked and that they aren’t going out of their way to harm individuals the way most major outlets have optioned to do when reporting on #GamerGate.
To think, many of those outlets may have second guessed calling Gjoni, and others using the #GamerGate banner, harassers if they knew that potentially costing people their jobs or misrepresenting the facts could earn them a serious libel suit.
Of course, the flip-side is that there’s no mention from Trump about what would happen in the case of satire? Sites like The Onion have become notorious for taking jabs at famous and non-famous people alike using humor as their weapon of choice, the same thing with sites like Cracked. Also, what about interviews where someone says something purely false but it’s printed in an article that appears to construe it as fact? Would those sites be subject to the “opened up” libel laws as well?
There’s obviously a lot of questions left unanswered, but regardless of what anyone thinks of Republican candidate Donald Trump, he’s at least addressing an elephant in the room that has caused insurmountable damage over the years by reckless and irresponsible news reporting.
(Main image courtesy of Kukuruyo)