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President Trump calls for tougher libel laws – January 2018

Washington, D.C.

Following the January 2018 release of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book Fire and Fury, President Trump called for more stringent libel laws in the United States, claiming that current restrictions concerning defamatory statements and actions lack effectiveness. His apparent aim was make it easier for people to seek “meaningful recourse” in court in the event of slander or libel, according to Politico.

Key Players

Michael Wolff is an award-winning journalist who authored Fire and Fury, published in 2018. Wolff interviewed current and former aides and advisors to Donald Trump, all of whom insisted on anonymity. The book was controversial because it put into question the competency and efficiency of the president and his White House staff.

Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States. Over the course of his campaign and into his presidency, Trump has harshly focused on the media and their representation of him, leading to his heightened interest in libel laws and what he regards as inaccuracy in reporting.  He has commented on the need for stricter libel laws on multiple occasions. At his first cabinet meeting of 2018, Trump said current laws were a “sham and disgrace,” and that people “can’t say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into [their] bank account[s].”

Further Details

Trump discussed the issue on the campaign trail in February 2016, when he said he would look into “opening up” current libel laws. At a campaign rally in Fort Worth, Texas, he said that if he won the election, he would “open up…libel laws so when they write purposefully negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” He later backtracked on this statement, saying: “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.’”

The president also called for changing libel laws on Twitter in March 2017. Trump tweeted about The New York Times, writing, “The failing @nytimes has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change libel laws?” Politico reported that this tweet could mean the president might “consider using the legal system to retaliate against news coverage he dislikes.”

Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, thanks to various insider sources, exposed many of the chaotic goings-on at the Trump White House. This portrayal frustrated the president, leading to him calling for a stiffening of libel laws that would make it easier for people who thought they had been defamed to sue publications or individuals.

Outcome

Inability to take action

Trump has made no progress on this front, largely because Congress is generally uniform in agreement on the issue and will not take it up. Further, many libel laws are enacted at the state level, where Trump has little influence or reach, as Politico points out. Thus, while Trump may continue to assert that tougher libel laws are necessary, it is unlikely that the current laws on the books, as interpreted by the courts, will change any time soon, according to various publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Times.

External References

Trump revives promise to toughen libel laws, New York Post

Trump says administration will take ‘very strong look’ at stricter libel laws, The Washington Post

Trump Renews Pledge to ‘Take a Strong Look’ at Libel Laws, The New York Times

Donald Trump: We’re going to ‘open up’ libel laws, POLITICO

In Twitter attack on New York Times, Trump floats changing libel laws, POLITICO

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded August 31, 2018