NBC Delayed Story About Trump's Access Hollywood Recording Over Fear That He Might Sue
from the chilling-effects dept
So just this past Thursday, we wrote about Trump’s habit of threatening to sue the press over any coverage he considers negative. In the past, we’ve also covered his stated plans to open up libel laws. The comments on that post got pretty ridiculous after people who can’t possibly be regular Techdirt readers complained that I was clearly just stirring up shit because I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter. This despite the fact that pretty much everything we’ve ever written about her has been critical too — including her own ridiculous comments mocking free speech and praising censorship. It also ignores that just a few days earlier I had also sided with the Trump campaign when it received a bogus, censorious, cease & desist letter from the city of Phoenix. We’re staying pretty consistent here: we don’t support censorship, no matter whose team you’re on. But, sure, I know. It’s crunch time and people are really concerned about supporting their team, rather than actually discussing issues.
But this is an important issue. Threatening a free press with bogus defamation lawsuits and SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) claims are a really big problem. Case in point: on Friday, as I’m sure you’re already aware, the Washington Post published a video of Donald Trump happily discussing sexually assaulting women, and how it’s okay because he’s a celebrity. As you also know, this became the story of Friday and the weekend, as it appeared to push a bunch of people who had previously supported Trump over the edge to pull their support (why this story rather than earlier ones, I don’t fully understand, but…).
Either way, the story led to a few different varieties of followup stories about how the Washington Post got the story. And all of them note that Access Hollywood found the tape itself last Monday, and realized it was newsworthy. They then took it to their corporate parent, NBC, and some work was done on getting the story out — but it kept getting pushed back. This led many to ask why it could possibly take so long for NBC to report on this. They knew the tape was authentic, so they didn’t need to confirm that.
On Saturday, though, we finally got an answer: NBC held up the story because it was afraid of getting sued.
Although NBC and ?Access? both recognized the newsworthiness of the tape and intended to air it, it first had to undergo a review by the company?s lawyers, the executive said. The executive was unaware of any specific legal issue raised by airing an 11-year-old recording of a presidential candidate who was apparently aware at the time that he was being recorded by a TV program.
However, the network was concerned that Trump could take legal action; the Republican nominee threatened to sue NBC last year after the network?s entertainment division dropped plans to air the Miss USA beauty pageant in the wake of Trump?s inflammatory remarks about Mexican immigrants. Trump backed off those threats when NBC sold its share of the pageant?s rights to him in September 2015.
That, right there, is a perfect example of chilling effects in action. Trump has threatened many, many in the press with bogus defamation claims, and sometimes has followed through. He’s also happily admitted that he’s filed bogus defamation lawsuits just to be a nuisance and cost reporters and publications he doesn’t like money. Here’s Trump on an earlier lawsuit that was clearly bogus from the start and thrown out as such:
“I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”
This is why it’s so important to call out threats against a free press and free expression. Bogus lawsuits that scare even giant corporate conglomerates away from reporting on something that is clearly news, is a serious problem. I don’t care which candidate you support or which candidate you hate. You should stand up against abusive litigation designed to stifle a free press. And you should support the effort in Congress to pass a federal anti-SLAPP law that would make it much more difficult for abusive defamation lawsuits to make reporters’ lives miserable.