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Libel Laws Protecting Media Assailed by Trump and Justice Clarence Thomas

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Decades long protections afforded media against libel actions are being threatened to be upended by the duo of President Donald Trump and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
President Trump repeatedly has said that is should be easier to successfully sue the news media for libelous stories and that protections now afforded the media should be eradicated. He claims he will lead that charge.
Just this month, he was joined in that belief by public statements made by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He is calling for the destruction of the foundational ruling in the 1964 case “New York Times v. Sullivan” which says, that to be libelous against a public official, reporters must publish falsities with actual malice.
That means that to be libelous a reporter must know that the statements in a story are false or publish them with reckless disregard for their truth, according to Dr. Aimee Edmondson, graduate director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
Dr. Edmondson recently wrote an op-ed piece on the subject for “USA Today” saying that the easing of the standards of fault required for a libel case against a public official would stifle much needed investigative reporting and be detrimental to American journalism.
She also notes that much of the aggressive reporting of the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement and Watergate would not have occurred without the protections of “New York Times v. Sullivan.”
Dr. Edmondson is a journalism historian who often researches the nexus between journalism and legal issues. Her new book, “In Sullivan’s Shadow: The Use and Abuse of Libel Law during the Long Civil Rights Struggle” will be published in August.
Dr. Edmondson told the Spectrum Podcast that it is “ironic” that Justice Thomas, the only African-American on the Supreme Court, would be leading the attack, along with Trump, to strip away protections that encouraged courageous journalism during the Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. Edmondson also explains the differences between American libel laws and those in Europe. She also notes that libel in the United States is a civil tort where one party sues another for money damages. It is not a criminal act as it is in many other countries.