By Complaining About US's 'Very Weak' Libel Laws, Trump Is Actually Shitting On Our 'Very Strong' First Amendmet

from the free-speech-is-a-thing,-buddy dept

As you likely recall, last week, lawyer Charles Harder* sent a letter on behalf of Donald Trump threatening to sue former advisor Steve Bannon, author Michael Wolff, and publisher Henry Holt for defamation having to do with the publication of Wolff’s new book about Trump. The full letter to Wolff and Henry Holt & Co. was published by the Hollywood Reporter and does not list out any statements that are claimed to be defamatory — which is often a hallmark of a totally bumptious defamation threat.

Over the weekend, during a press conference, Trump appeared to admit that he can’t actually sue for defamation. In the midst of a Trumpian ramble in response to a question about the book, he includes the following:

I consider it a work of fiction and I think it’s a disgrace that someone’s able to have something, do something like that. The libel laws are very weak in this country. If they were strong, it would be very helpful. You wouldn’t have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes to your head.

This isn’t the first time, of course, that Trump has made similar comments. Early in 2016, while on the campaign trail, he famously promised to “open up the libel laws” in order to sue his critics. And, going back even further, Trump has complained about US libel laws in reference to a case he lost, where he sued a writer who said Trump wasn’t really as rich as Trump claimed (Trump lost that lawsuit, no matter what his tweet here says):

For a brief moment, after the election, Trump seemed to realize that “opening up” libel laws might come back to bite him. In an interview with the NY Times he backtracked on his feelings towards US defamation law:

Mark Thompson: [A]fter all the talk about libel and libel laws, are you committed to the First Amendment to the Constitution?

Trump: Oh, I was hoping he wasn’t going to say that. I think you’ll be happy. I think you’ll be happy. Actually, somebody said to me on that, they said, ‘You know, it’s a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right, I never thought about that.’ I said, ‘You know, I have to start thinking about that.’ So, I, I think you’ll be O.K. I think you’re going to be fine.

Defamation law is state-based, so the President can’t actually do anything to change those laws directly (indirectly is another story, but it’s still difficult). But, really, Thompson’s question is the key point here. He’s asking about the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Constitution that the President is under oath to uphold and defend. And yet, the President is now suddenly upset.

And let’s be clear: when the President complains about our “weak libel laws” and says he’d prefer it if people couldn’t “say whatever comes to your head” he’s not actually complaining about our weak libel laws: he’s complaining about our strong First Amendment protections of free expression. And this is particularly ridiculous when we still have Trump supporters insisting that “Donald Trump has single-handedly brought back free speech” because he’s made fun of political correctness a couple times.

However, Trump has made it quite clear that he’s not a fan of the First Amendment when it lets people criticize him. And he’s not a fan of the First Amendment when people he doesn’t like are protesting. People shouldn’t let him get off the hook by saying he’s complaining about “weak libel laws.” That’s not the problem at all. The US’s libel laws are not weak. Our First Amendment protections are strong — as they should be — and as President, he’s supposed to be defending that Constitution, not complaining about how it exposes him to mild criticism.

* Harder is a lawyer for the plaintiff in the still-ongoing lawsuit against us.

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Comments on “By Complaining About US's 'Very Weak' Libel Laws, Trump Is Actually Shitting On Our 'Very Strong' First Amendmet”

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94 Comments
Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

And yet for all the accusations that Obama was an America-hating foreign-born commie Marxist socialist Muslim – including such accusations by Trump himself…. Obama didn’t go to war with Fox News, let alone the press as a whole.

But if false equivalence is all you have left to defend Trump with, good luck with that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Uh ho… the special snowflake as been activated. I said something bad about them so I am now a Trump defender on that merit alone.

Get over yourself you pansy crybaby. Not everything is about You vs Trump you simpleton. I thought you guys were “smart” around here?

I don’t like Obama, but it sure as fuck does not mean that I like Trump either. And it also does not mean that I like Trump just because I say you are no different than him.

So in short… Obama was stupid, Trump is stupid, and YOU are stupid too! You got Trump because you were dumb enough to run something like Hillary against him. Seems to me that you got just exactly what you asked for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Hello stupid, let me point this out so it might be a little bit more clear since you are too stupid to understand it.

Just because I do not agree with YOUR bullshit does not mean that I automatically agree with Trump’s bullshit.

It may not have crossed your less than functional mind, but I can think that two people that do not agree with each other are both full of bullshit. i.e.

You = Full of Bullshit
Trump = Full of Bullshit

So in short, where Bullshit is concerned!
You = Trump

I hope this lesson was informative for you. But I am certain you are probably going to fuck understanding even this up. I know this all probably mind fucks your reality a bit but you need to understand everything is NOT a you vs trump situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Strawman… what does fox news have to do with this? I didn’t bring up fox news and neither did the person I was responding too.

I am just saying that Trump is not the only person waging some retarded war on the first amendment. Additionally, libel is NOT protected by the first either. Do I agree with Trump here? No I don’t, I am just explaining that between the likes of Trump and ‘hate speech’ zealots there is more than enough to hurt the 1st to begin with.

I think you folks overestimate your intelligence around here.

“Go on, break out your citations. I can wait.”

You are a special kind of stupid, friend. Trying to get me to defend something I was not even talking about. Are you going to get upset that I am not as stupid as you are now?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Strawman… what does fox news have to do with this?

Fox News led the charge against President Obama when it criticized and decried damn near everything he ever did while in office. But he never once declared Fox News to be an enemy of the state, tried to discredit it as “fake news”, or tried to punish the network for its reporting on him, even though doing any of those things would have helped his politics by endearing him more to liberals/“the left”. Contrast this with Trump’s attempts to discredit and punish every media outlet that fails to report favorably on him, up to and including his wish to “open up the libel laws”. This puts to bed your “everyone would destroy the 1st the moment it served their politics” argument: Obama had no shortage of moments in which doing so would have served his politics, but he did not do so. You now have only one way to demonstrate that your argument is not bullshit: Prove that Obama tried to do what I said he did not. If you cannot, your argument will still be bullshit.

Trump is not the only person waging […] war on the first amendment.

He is the most powerful, though.

I am just explaining that between the likes of Trump and ‘hate speech’ zealots there is more than enough to hurt the 1st to begin with.

Hate speech laws will be struck down in this country because hate speech is protected speech—and because there is no easy way to define and criminalize “hate speech”, then protect speech that quotes, parodies, or satires “hate speech”.

You are a special kind of stupid, friend.

Nah, I’m a regular kind of stupid. I just happen to own my stupidity rather than hide behind anonymity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

No matter which kind of stupid you are, stop trying to setup strawman arguments.

Obama was no friend to the 1st and neither is Trump. The problem with you is that you want act like just the media is the only topic the 1st addresses.

Obama did not have to do to the media what Trump does to be a bitch on the 1st, he just needs to do something that runs afoul of the 1st… like say fucking up whistle-blowers.

O wait… I keep forgetting… it’s okay as long as your fearless leader assaults the 1st but not when it’s someone else.

I am right, you just hate me being right.

It does not matter how you attack the first, be it through whistle-blower assaults that Obama conducted or attempts to strengthen libel laws in ways that hurt the 1st. Both are bullshit, plain and simple!

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Obama did not have to do to the media what Trump does to be a bitch on the 1st, he just needs to do something that runs afoul of the 1st… like say fucking up whistle-blowers.

Look at that, you had an actual argument you could have run with! But now nobody will listen to you because you insulted them and acted arrogant about how smart you think you are. That fuck-up is on you, son.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I know it sucks being right and putting little “know-it-alls” in their place.

I am nice like that. I give you guys an out because it proves everything I have been saying all along.

You don’t give a fuck about the truth. Just how sweet those lies sound when they graze your un-discerning ears. When you start giving a shit about the actual truth all the rest of your “feel good” theatrics fall away. Only then do you start to realize how childish you have been all along.

If you require people to wait for you to figure out the truth gracefully and patiently then you are in a for a long wait cause the truth is not heading your way. The truth is brutal, it has always been because any attempt to sugarcoat it or to let people down easy waters the truth down at the risk of turning it into a lie!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Still no.

Prosecuting a whistleblower and Trump’s attacks on the media are two VERY different things.

While there are some legal exceptions for whistleblowing, in general it is illegal. (Personal belief is that Snowden should be fully pardoned since what he revealed was illegal activity by the government and being covered up, that kind of makes it hard to say he was in the wrong)

Conversely, government wanting to muzzle the news media just because they don’t like what they say about them is blatantly illegal and a violation of the First Ammendment. You don’t like what they say? Fine, get your act together and they won’t have anything to say anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

there is no end to the fucking stupid that rolls through here.

“Prosecuting a whistleblower and Trump’s attacks on the media are two VERY different things.”

Both are addressed by the 1st amendment so they really go hand in hand even if the vectors of assault are from different fronts. In both cases “The People” are being denied a RIGHT to know what the fuck is going on in their government and is the root of the problem.

So “proper” fuck off!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

No, I will not “‘proper’ fuck off.

We can agree that what Snowden did was morally right and the activity by the government he exposed was morally and legally wrong. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the technical act of what Snowden did (giving state secrets to the media) was and is illegal and is not protected under any of the Amendments or Bill of Rights. (Should that be changed? Maybe, but currently that’s the way it is.)

If what Snowden had given to the media wasn’t state secrets proving government overreach and surveillance and instead were the codes needed to launch all of the US’s nuclear missiles, the technical act would be the same but morally he would now be in the wrong. As such he should be prosecuted for committing an illegal act.

What Trump is doing is a direct violation of the 1st Amendment.

Don’t conflate moral right/wrong with legal right/wrong. You can be morally right and still get into trouble legally. You can also be morally wrong and get into no legal trouble whatsoever. The two are not explicitly linked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

everyone is a general term.

I would not sacrifice the 1st for anything.

Lets see if you would.

Is Snowden criminally liable for giving state secrets to the media?

Do the Nazi’s have a right to call people they hate by whatever name they like?

Can you force people by law to DO something they claim that their religion says no too?

I am willing to bet you will fail at least one of these 3.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Is Snowden criminally liable for giving state secrets to the media?

By the letter of the law, yes.

Do the Nazi’s have a right to call people they hate by whatever name they like?

Yes, they do.

Can you force people by law to DO something they claim that their religion says no too?

I would say that depends on whether an infringement of religious freedom places an unfair burden upon religious people in an attempt to balance the rights of all people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“By the letter of the law, yes.”

This is NOT consistent with supporting the 1st. If a lesser law is allowed to trump an Amendment then you are not following the law to start with.

“Yes, they do.”

This is consistent with supporting the 1st.

“I would say that depends on whether an infringement of religious freedom places an unfair burden upon religious people in an attempt to balance the rights of all people.”

Nice cop out.

To be clear, the 1st does not state that you can use religious to say or do anything to anyone. It just says you cannot tell them what to believe or make people participate in something their religion says they should not.

Example, you cannot constitutionally force someone to render services for something their religion says no to, like forcing a Muslim butcher to make you pork chops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The 1st Amendment does not grant the right to give state secrets to the media. Whistleblower laws do. And I’m pretty sure that’s been the case since the inception of the Constitution.

And I’m pretty sure that act is theft, not speech. The media publishing it is speech and is protected under the 1st Amendment but the act of taking the documents and giving them to the media is not. (Except under whistleblower laws)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Our commander-in-chief has never read the Constitution.

And given close observation of his behavior over the past year, I’m not sure that he’s CAPABLE of reading the Constitution. Have you noticed? He has almost zero attention span. He can’t read prepared remarks. The PDB is now limited to a single page and must include charts/graphs/pictures. He watches TV constantly instead of reading policy papers and intelligence reports. (Think about that for minute: he has access to the finest intelligence agencies on the planet, but gets his information from Fox.)

I’m pretty sure that the commander-in-chief is functionally illiterate.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

And this is particularly ridiculous when we still have Trump supporters insisting that "Donald Trump has single-handedly brought back free speech" because he’s made fun of political correctness a couple times.

There’s an old saying that the real menace in dealing with a five-year-old is that in no time at all you begin to sound like a five-year-old.

This explains much about those still defending Trump.

An Onymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It explains a lot about those who too-readily jump down the throat of anyone perceived to be a Trump defender, too, regardless of whether they really are.

Not being a hardcore super-liberal does not automatically mean that person is a Trump supported. There are plenty of people who think both sides are undiagnosed retards.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, sure. But you also need to understand that criticizing Trump – and his supporters – doesn’t make one a “hardcore super-liberal. There are plenty of conservatives on the right with a very low opinion of Trump and the alt-right.

Likewise there are plenty of people on both sides who think that anyone labelling Trump critics as “hardcore super-liberal”, are the ones who are undiagnosed retards.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

well at least we know that you are a well diagnosed retard.

But something tells me that “An Onymous Coward” struck a cord with you. You are a defacto “blame someone as a trump supporter” if they don’t buy your brand of bullshit. Every time I come here to remind you fucktards that you are just as bad as Trump just in a different direction I get blamed as a Trump supporter. I did not defend him, but you sure do feel the need to lie constantly about it for some reason.

Truth hurt much?

Anonymous Coward says:

” ‘You know, it’s a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right, I never thought about that.’ I said, ‘You know, I have to start thinking about that.’ So, I, I think you’ll be O.K. I think you’re going to be fine. “

…. now that I am president – hahaha because they can not sue me

Anonymous Coward says:

Is he mocking himself?

“You wouldn’t have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes to your head.”

I don’t even… Did he just say that, with a straight face? Having read a few of the transcripts from the election campaign, the staccato and low level of insight shown in his speaches is amazingly close to “whatever came to his head”!

Either he is taking the mic on people and trying to abuse “the problem” or he is just that thick. Given how bad he has been at keeping to a script I would expect the comments should be ignored as just Trump being Fire and Fury and hope he moves on before he starts self-mutilating.

Anonymous Coward says:

“not complaining about how it exposes him to mild criticism.”

You are joking, right? Since when has any TD article criticizing Trump ever been “mild”, much less anything trumpeted by the Progressive left?

Do you actually listen to what you/they say? What would you think if the target was someone like Maxine Walters instead? Trump says some stupid stuff sometimes, sure – but until he gains magical powers to write and pass leglislation without congress, I think you guys are safe.

Check you cognitive dissonance at the door please.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sir, cognitive dissonance is a requirement to join a political group, especially a left leaning one, though there is enough on the right to spread some blame there as well.

1st step is to preach tolerance.
2nd step is to preach bigotry against anyone else that does not agree with your tolerance.
3rd step is to welcome yourself to being a lefty and go back to step 1.

Talmyr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Sir, cognitive dissonance is a requirement to join a political group, especially a right leaning one, though there is enough on the left to spread some blame there as well.

1st step is to preach hate of ‘the other’.
2nd step is to practice bigotry against anyone else that does not suit your narrow worldview.
3rd step is to whine about anyone giving you hassle about your hate and bigotry, and add them to your list in step 1.”

FIFY. See how easy it is?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Trump says some stupid stuff sometimes, sure…”

Trump says enough to get something right at times, sure. Most of the time Trump is impulsive and says whatever comes to his mind. That is not a problem on its own. But defending it afterwards and calling anyone that fact-checks his uterrings “fake news” while moving the goal-posts, is another league of hypocricy. Hypocricy is the “sad but true” reality in this case.

Btw. I have no clue, who he is, “Maxine Walters”? If you were alive a couple years ago, you would also know that TD was critical of Obummer and certainly not in a republicant zealot way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Most of the time Trump is impulsive and says whatever comes to his mind. That is not a problem on its own. But defending it afterwards and calling anyone that fact-checks his uterrings “fake news” while moving the goal-posts, is another league of hypocricy. Hypocricy is the “sad but true” reality in this case.”

A good example of this is Roger Strong’s post above.

He made a knee jerk claim that because I was pointing out some hypocrisy that I was defending Trump. Well, I guess in his special world things work differently but a great example of running off the mouth, being wrong, but not backing down about it and keeping the stupid going.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I consider it a work of fiction and I think it’s a disgrace that someone’s able to have something, do something like that. The libel laws are very weak in this country. If they were strong, it would be very helpful. You wouldn’t have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes to your head. “

The first person that needs to stop saying whatever comes to his head is Trump. If anything his proposed laws should be used against him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Right, "mild criticism". -- Just don't ever claim that "work of fiction" is more!

Fictions and contriving this very piece trying to make Trump “complaining” into rabid full-out attack on First Amendment is ALL you’ve got.

And of course you only wrote this for the “Trump bump”, feeding your own and fanboy baseless hatred after “reality” has been no “winner” for you. (Remember HER? Why no follow-up on her troubles?)

By the way: Wikileaks has “liberated” the text so you can get it free, heh, heh, an infringement that I approve of.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Right, "mild criticism". -- Just don't ever claim that "work of fiction" is more!

When private citizen Donald Trump – on election night 2012 – demanded a march on Washington to overthrow the newly reelected President, everyone could laugh at him. He was just a silly nutjob, well-known for birther claims and other wingnuttery.

As President, that same silly nutjob must be taken seriously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Right, "mild criticism". -- Just don't ever claim that "work of fiction" is more!

What is it like to live in a 24-hr “Trump this” and “Trump that” world?

Trump is a classic self absorbed douche bag, but then again so are you… I hear you guys hate your own kind a lot.

Your fixation on Trump is getting pretty bad. You guys should try to sit and back and just accept that a fucking moron is in the oval office. I have had to accept that for the past few Administrations. Hell I have learned to accept that a majority of fucking morons fill the ranks of easy to fool and constantly clueless voters.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Pretty sure that if he’s thought about it at all, he would a) not for so much as a moment imagine why anything he says could get him sued(because simply telling the (alternative) truth isn’t grounds for being sued, obviously), b) believes (right or wrong, not sure offhand) that being president means you’re immune from lawsuits, and/or c), he has enough money to simply outspend anyone who might try.

This of course assumes that he has actually thought about the possible consequences, which I doubt, and a more likely scenario is he’s simply whining about how people are saying mean things about him, he wishes he could shut them up, and he’s upset that that blasted ‘law’ thing is making it more difficult than he wishes it was.

Anonymous Coward says:

Trump is an idiot. He complains about libel laws being weak and by extension the strong first ammendment when its the very thing that saves him from a lot of trouble. He surely thinks of all the people he could have succesfully sued were these laws different but obviously neglects to consider that he is a loudmouth himself and would be sued constantly if he got his wish.

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