One thing everyone in America can agree on is that Donald Trump is shaking things up. Whether you believe that is for the better or the worse, it is undeniable that Trump is unlike any President to come before him.
For one thing, it seems that the 45th President has relatively thin skin, his most recent target of a childish rebuke was Stephen Colbert, who after a year of prodding has finally attracted the President’s attention. This is not a recent development; Trump has a reputation of suing quickly and often. Of the 4,095 cases USA Today has found, fourteen are defamation lawsuits. Trump has only won one.
Nonetheless, before, during, and after his campaign, Trump has talked about “opening up the libel laws.”
As a quick refresher, Libel means, as Merriam-Webster explains, “a written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression.” The laws in which President Trump refers to in those posts are the laws that protect people from slanderous speech and protect the rights of the press via a set of procedures that must be met to decide the outcome of a case.
Cases of libel have even sprung up on Trump’s favorite social media platform, Twitter. This is a serious issue, especially when the President’s Chief of Staff is saying that a change is being considered. This is a train of thought that could destroy lives and severely change the power structure of America. Or as Keith Olbermann explains:
Politifact has found that more than half of the President’s statements have ranged from mostly false to pants on fire. This President needs a strong, free press to oppose him. In his first week of office it seemed that Trump’s trigger-happy lawsuit bug had infected his team, with Kelly Anne Conway saying that critics should be careful.
This is a scary prospect. For the moment though, as Reuters has uncovered, “Donald Trump hasn’t sued a newspaper for libel in three decades.” This is probably due to the fact that Trump for a long time Trump has been deemed a Public person, which affects the outcome of a libel case, a public figure has to prove “actual malice.” The speaker would need to know that the statement was false and act with reckless disregard for the truth.
Fortunately, as Poynter points out, it is very unlikely, if not impossible for this change to occur. But, in these times no one should take anything for granted. Even with the smallest possibility of the outcome occurring where libel laws are changed, it is important to stay vigilant because a lot would change. For instance, we may not see satire like the MODAAK, from Spider-Gwen Annual #1, which is at the top of this article. For fear of an expensive lawsuit, artists and journalists of the media industry may take fewer risks and fewer shots at public officials and we could see the collapse of that pillar; the one that holds up the balance of power.