Pro-Freedom Republicans, How Can You Support Donald Trump’s Anti-Freedom Libel Proposal?
Top-of-the-line confession: if you look closely, you can see that the Twitter post I’ve shared above is a fake created with the help of Trump Generator. Even so, its content is a fairly accurate description of Donald Trump’s actual policy position.
In case you missed it, if elected President of the United States Donald Trump wants to use that power to “loosen up” libel laws so that it will be easier for him to sue people who’ve said things about him that he doesn’t like. Washington Post transcript:
HIATT: But just – given the Supreme Court rulings on libel — Sullivan v. New York Times — how would you change the law?
TRUMP: I would just loosen them up.
RUTH MARCUS: What does that mean?
TRUMP: I’d have to get my lawyers in to tell you, but I would loosen them up. I would loosen them up. If The Washington Post writes badly about me – and they do, they don’t write good – I mean, I don’t think I get – I read some of the stories coming up here, and I said to my staff, I said, “Why are we even wasting our time? The hatred is so enormous.” I don’t know why. I mean, I do a good job. I have thousands of employees. I work hard.
I’m not looking for bad for our country. I’m a very rational person, I’m a very sane person. I’m not looking for bad. But I read articles by you, and others. And, you know, we’ve never – we don’t know each other, and the level of hatred is so incredible, I actually said, “Why am I – why am I doing this? Why am I even here?” And I don’t expect anything to happen–
RYAN: Would that be the standard then? If there is an article that you feel has hatred, or is bad, would that be the basis for libel?
TRUMP: No, if it’s wrong. If it’s wrong.
RYAN: Wrong whether there’s malice or not?
TRUMP: I mean, The Washington Post never calls me. I never had a call, “Why – why did you do this?” or “Why did you do that?” It’s just, you know, like I’m this horrible human being. And I’m not. You know, the one thing we have in common I think we all love the country. Now, maybe we come at it from different sides, but nobody ever calls me. I mean, Bob Costa calls about a political story – he called because we’re meeting senators in a little while and congressmen, supporters – but nobody ever calls.
RYAN: The reason I keep asking this is because you’ve said three times you’ve said we are going to open up the libel laws and when we ask you what you mean you say hatred, or bad–
TRUMP: I want to make it more fair from the side where I am, because things are said that are libelous, things are said about me that are so egregious and so wrong, and right now according to the libel laws I can do almost nothing about it because I’m a well-known person you know, etc., etc.
Right now in this country, a public figure can’t sue someone for libel simply if they’ve written something about you that’s wrong — a public figure can only (successfully) sue for libel if they can demonstrate that the person who wrote the material is wrong, knew they were wrong, and yet maliciously chose to spread the falsehood anyway.
This is an important distinction. Imagine what happens to critical speech regarding rich and powerful people if you can be sued for every penny you own for making a factual error in your critical speech — even if the factual error is an inadvertent error, an honest error. You’d have to be crazy to speak up against the rich and powerful in public if that were the standard. That pressure would kill our American tradition of free speech.
If you think I’m picking apart small differences here, if you have any doubt regarding what Donald Trump would do if he were actually elected President and changed libel law, consider that earlier this decade Donald Trump filed a libel suit against the author of a book asking for a whopping $5 Billion in damages. Why? Because the author of the book dared to refer to him with the word “millionaire,” not the word “billionaire.” (In case you hadn’t heard, there are multiple hints in the record that Donald Trump may not be actually a billionaire.) The lawsuit was thrown out under current libel law standards. Under Donald Trump’s new standard, he could have succeeded in bullying a critical author into either silence or utter financial ruin.
Thank goodness that in the United States of America honest errors or possible mistakes in political speech won’t get you sued for every penny you own. Thank goodness that in the United States of America there are some legal roadblocks to prevent the rich and powerful from intimidating critical voices into silence.
Republicans repeatedly trumpet their love of “freedom.” If that is true, how can Republicans continue to support a presidential candidate who has vowed to weaken freedom of speech in our nation?