President Donald Trump has consistently made it clear that he is no fan of the press. His dissatisfaction has apparently reached a new level in the weeks since the release of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”, prompting the president to renew his commitment to changing U.S. libel laws.
Last week Trump made a point of calling current libel laws “a sham and a disgrace that do not represent American values or American fairness” during a meeting with lawmakers. Meanwhile, Trump lawyers have filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed News. The suit alleges that BuzzFeed defamed Mr. Trump by publishing an uncorroborated dossier of intelligence data allegedly linking the Trump campaign to Russian interference.
Trump lawyer Charles Harder also tried to protect the president against the fallout of the Michael Wolff book by sending a cease-and-desist letter to Wolff’s publisher in the days leading up to the release of “Fire and Fury.” Henry Holt and Company went ahead and published the book anyway. In fact, they moved up the release date and increased the original print volume from 150,000 copies to 1 million.
The president has characterized both the dossier and the Wolff book as unfair, untruthful, and fake news. He has repeatedly stated that libel laws need to be reconsidered in order to bring fairness back into media. The president was quoted by the New York Times as saying that America just want fairness.
Trump’s Past History
The President’s tussles BuzzFeed and Michael Wolff are nothing new. He sued biographer Timothy O’Brien in 2009 after O’Brien allegedly understated his personal wealth in a book published in 2005. The court dismissed the $5 billion suit based on insufficient evidence.
At the time of the decision Trump claimed that “libel laws in this country have never been fair.” He insisted that his legal team proved their case despite what the court ruled.
Trump said during the 2016 presidential campaign that one of his goals was to loosen up libel laws in order to promote more fairness. However, he later backed off after he was advised that doing so could open him up to lawsuits of his own. The president has been known to say things in the past that could be viewed by courts as defamatory should laws be changed. For example, Trump once asserted that Texas senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
As for the likelihood that Trump will succeed in his drive to change libel laws, it’s probably not going to happen. Libel laws are the domain of state law rather than federal legislation. It is unlikely any legislation proposed by Trump would make it through Congress. If it did, such legislation would probably fail in court.
In order for Trump to loosen libel laws he would have to convince state legislators to make changes. That could happen in theory, but it’s not likely given the political fallout that could result.