Welcome back to How to Legal where we use the good side of the Internet to combat the dark side. In this installment we’ll learn about some of the judges who have been advancing the argument that today’s defamation laws may not be keeping up in this Internet era of fake news, misinformation, and defamation, where anyone can publish anything.
This topic is currently under scrutiny and the spotlight in Sarah Palin v New York Times. It is also under consideration given conspiracies, like Pizzagate, which according to the FBI fuels domestic terrorism.
As NPR reported in “Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against ‘The New York Times’ gets its day in court.”
As her political career unfurled on the national scene in 2008, Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska and Republican nominee for vice president, frequently criticized what she called the “lamestream media,” saying it was unfair to her and took pains to cast her in the worst possible light.
Starting Monday in Manhattan, Palin will get her day in court against one of the most august titles in American journalism: The New York Times. The case pits First Amendment protections for robust free speech against the right of someone not to be defamed, i.e. not to have damaging and untrue claims made publicly against her, even if she’s a prominent public figure. It is also likely to shine an unwanted light into the behavior of the nation’s leading newspaper when it’s under deadline pressure.
“It’s going to be ugly,” says Lucy Dalglish, a First Amendment attorney who is dean of the University of Maryland Merrill College of Journalism. If you’re a news outlet, Dalglish says, “you really never want a libel case to go to trial. It’s hard to win. It can be done, but they’re hard to win.“David Folkenflik, NPR, January 23, 2022
Update: Nick Niedzwiadek, “Palin’s positive Covid test postpones libel case against New York Times: Jury selection, originally set for Monday, will be held Feb. 3.” Politico, January 24, 2022.
With Palin’s positive Covid test now you have more time to learn about defamation law and you can read the court filings of this case at Courtlistener to get up to speed. See: Palin v. The New York Times Company (1:17-cv-04853)
Palin v NYT is being heard in Southern District of New York with Judge Jed Saul Rakoff presiding.
Update: “Judge to dismiss Sarah Palin case against N.Y. Times regardless of jury verdict,” Reuters, February 14, 2022. Uh oh … to think like a judge is supposed to think – impartial… whether you like the plaintiff or the defendant for political or whatever reason is irrelevant, it’s about the law and evidence.
Here, in this case, the New York Times quickly retracted and apologized to Sarah Palin. By doing so they reduced damages. Conversely, if a party does not retract and apologize the damages can be higher unless you are in a court with oath breaking judges and lawyers throwing the case for some unjust gain. They know the rules, the laws. See: How to Legal: Judges & Lawyers Oaths, Codes & Rules
See for e.g.: New York Consolidated Laws, Civil Rights Law – CVR § 78. Mitigating circumstances in action for libel or slander
In an action for libel or slander the defendant may prove mitigating circumstances, including the sources of his information and the grounds for his belief, whether or not he has pleaded or attempted to prove any defense. A defendant in default for want of an answer may prove such mitigating circumstances upon a reference or inquiry to ascertain the amount of the plaintiff’s damages. Matter tending only to mitigate or reduce damages is a partial defense and may be set forth in the answer.Findlaw
See also: The Relationship of Retraction to Malice in Defamation Cases
If the plaintiff requests and is refused a retraction, the refusal can be pleaded as malice and go to a jury to recover punitive damages. Conversely, if the plaintiff does request and receives a retraction before filing suit, this is not a bar to a defamation suit, since retraction is not legal exoneration. But the retraction can substantially ameliorate the sting of a defamation, and thereby mitigate actual and thus compensatory damages, and can possibly eliminate the category of punitive damages as a remedy for reputational harm.LA Lubin Austermuehle
Update: “New York Times found not liable in Palin defamation case,” The Hill, February 15, 2022.
Update: Deanna Paul, “Jurors in Sarah Palin’s Defamation Suit Against New York Times Knew Judge Planned to Dismiss Her Claims: Judge said some jurors involuntarily received smartphone push notifications ‘that contained the bottom-line of the ruling,’” Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2022.
While I’m not a lawyer, it looks like this judge handed Sarah Palin solid grounds for appeal and/or mistrial. Time will tell.
Update: Bob Van Voris, “Sarah Palin to Request New Trial in N.Y. Times Defamation Case,” Bloomberg News, February 23, 2022.
Thanks for coming back to How to Legal to be a part of the solution to the online information crisis.
Okay, let’s do this.
Are Defamation Laws keeping up with the evolution of the Internet?
Among the justices voicing concerns that defamations laws are not keeping up with the times is Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Gorsuch moved this subject forward in Shkelzen Berisha v. Guy Lawson, et al,
Read the difference between misinformation and disinformation at dictionary.com …. in a nutshell it’s about the intent.
In this case, Shkelzen Berisha is the plaintiff. Guy Lawson is the defendant.
Below is a brief summary of this defamation case.
In 2015, Guy Lawson published a book detailing the “true story” of how three Miami youngsters became international arms dealers. 973 F. 3d 1304, 1306 (CA11 2020). A central plot point involves the protagonists’ travels to Albania and subsequent run-ins with the “Albanian mafia,” a key figure of which, the book claims, is petitioner Shkelzen Berisha. The book performed well, and Lawson eventually sold the movie rights to Warner Bros., which made the feature film War Dogs.
Unhappy with his portrayal, Berisha sued Lawson for defamation under Florida law. According to Berisha, he is not associated with the Albanian mafia—or any dangerous group—and Lawson recklessly relied on flimsy sources to contend that he was.Shkelzen Berisha v. Guy Lawson et al,
Justice Gorsuch wrote in part:
In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254 (1964), this Court declared that public officials could no longer recover for defamation as everyone had for centuries. Now, public officials could prevail only by showing that an injurious falsehood was published with “ ‘actual malice.’ ” Id., at 279–280. Three years later, the Court extended its actual malice standard from “public officials” in government to “public figures” outside government. See generally Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U. S. 130 (1967).
Later still, the Court cast the net even wider, applying its new standard to those who have achieved “pervasive fame or notoriety” and those “limited” public figures who “voluntarily injec[t]” themselves or are “drawn into a particular public controversy.” Gertz, 418 U. S., at 351. The Court viewed these innovations “overturning 200 years of libel law” as “necessary to implement the First Amendment interest in ‘uninhibited, robust, and wide-open’ debate on public issues.” Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U. S. 749, 766 (1985) (White, J., concurring in judgment).
Since 1964, however, our Nation’s media landscape has shifted in ways few could have foreseen. Back then, building printing presses and amassing newspaper distribution networks demanded significant investment and expertise. See Logan, Rescuing Our Democracy by Rethinking New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 81 Ohio St. L. J. 759, 794 (2020) (Logan). Broadcasting required licenses for limited airwaves and access to highly specialized equipment. See ibid. Comparatively large companies dominated the press, often employing legions of investigative reporters, editors, and fact-checkers. See id., at 794–795. But “[t]he liberty of the press” has never been “confined to newspapers and periodicals”; it has always “comprehend[ed] every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.” Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 452 (1938); see also Sentelle, Freedom of the Press: A Liberty for All or a Privilege for a Few? 2013 Cato S. Ct. Rev. 15, 30–34.
And thanks to revolutions in technology, today virtually anyone in this country can publish virtually anything for immediate consumption virtually anywhere in the world. Logan 803 (noting there are 4 billion active social media users worldwide). The effect of these technological changes on our Nation’s media may be hard to overstate…
The bottom line? It seems that publishing without investigation, fact-checking, or editing has become the optimal legal strategy. See id., at 778–779. Under the actual malice regime as it has evolved, “ignorance is bliss.” Id., at 778. Combine this legal incentive with the business incentives fostered by our new media world and the deck seems stacked against those with traditional (and expensive) journalistic standards—and in favor of those who can disseminate the most sensational information as efficiently as possible without any particular concern for truth. See ibid.Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Shkelzen Berisha v. Guy Lawson, et al
++ ARE YOU STUCK IN A MEDIA ECHO-CHAMBER, or know someone who is, and need help breaking free? Take The Break Free from Media Echo-Chambers 30-Day Challenge.
There are problems on both sides of the political aisle and real problems that need to be fixed. Acting on fake news just creates more problems that need to be fixed.
As protocol reported, Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch was not alone in his opinion about defamation laws, “Gorsuch’s conservative colleague, Clarence Thomas, “who has suggested treating social media as utilities bound to carry all political speech and ending tech’s prized legal shield, cited Pizzagate in his own writing on why he would have taken the case.”
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Pizzagate
Indeed. Pizzagate. Remember officers of the court take an oath to be loyal to the United States Constitution.
According to Nolo, an excellent legal resource anyone can use when they How to Legal, following is the definition of an officer of the court:
Officer of the Court
Any person who has an obligation to promote justice and uphold the law, including judges, clerks, court personnel, police officers, and attorneys (who must be truthful in court and obey court rules).
This is important given according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Pizzagate is one of the conspiracies that fuels domestic terrorism.
When officers of the court take an oath to the U.S. Constitution that oaths includes protecting the United States from enemies both foreign and domestic. As such, all judges, clerks, court personnel, police officers and attorneys have a duty to be truthful about what they know about Pizzagate and/or other conspiracies cited in the FBI threat assessment, in the event they know something, right?
Article VI of the Constitution requires Officials to take an oath “to support this Constitution.” Today, 5 U.S.C. 3331 specifies the language of the oath for federal officials. According to this statute, officials must “solemnly swear (or affirm)” that they “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and that they “will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”Orin Kerr, “You promised to “defend the Constitution” against “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Now what?” Washington Post, January 12, 2015.
5 U.S. Code § 3331 – Oath of office
An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath:
“I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute
Recall how the ‘Pizzagate’ Gunman was sentenced to 4 years In prison, in June of 2017, and how Pizzagate culminated into QAnon.
See: Michael E Miller, “Pizzagate’s violent legacy: The gunman who terrorized a D.C. pizzeria is out of prison. The QAnon conspiracy theories he helped unleash are out of control. Washington Post, February 16, 2021.
See also: Steven Monacelli,”The Fringe QAnon ‘Cult’ Is Still Waiting for a JFK Jr. Miracle in Dallas: The group, led by conspiracy theorist Michael Protzman, are trafficking in fascistic ideas that are far more concerning than they are kooky,” Rolling Stone Magazine, December 1, 2021.
See also: Olivia Rubin, Lucien Bruggeman, and Will Steakin, “QAnon emerges as recurring theme of criminal cases tied to US Capitol siege: Some of the most prominent and violent offenders were supporters, officials say:” ABC News, January 19, 2021.
See also: Kevin T. Dugan, “QAnon’s Deadly Price: Church-loving surf instructor Matthew Taylor Coleman fell into online conspiracy theories, then allegedly admitted to killing his kids to save the world. How did no one see it coming?” Rolling Stone Magazine, October 9, 2021.
Please note: “Tech’s prized legal shield,” Justice Thomas is referring to is § Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
For over two decades plaintiffs, lawyers and judges have warned about the dangers of a misused and abused 47 U.S. Code § 230, and how it’s harming people to no avail. Some parties might have been somewhat trashed by a court like we saw in the Wall Street Journal investigation exposing judicial misconduct at the federal level– a plaintiff pro se. See also for e.g., Ryan J.P. Dyer, The Communication Decency Act Gone Wild: A Case for Renewing the Presumption Against Preemption, 37 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 837 (2014).
As demonstrated above there are always whistleblowers and people sounding alarms who tried to obtain justice and prevent others from being harmed.
Read the decision at Shkelzen Berisha v. Guy Lawson, et al.
On the Appeals Level
It’s not only Justices at the Supreme Court who are questioning whether or not defamation laws are keeping up with the Internet era, on the appeals level, another judge, Judge Laurence Silberman, senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has also questioned the landmark case (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan), and how it shaped defamation laws with the current times.
In a blistering dissent essentially directed at the liberal media, in Tah and McClain v Global Witness Publishing, Inc. Judge Silberman wrote in part:
It should be borne in mind that the first step taken byTah and McClain v Global Witness Publishing, Inc.
any potential authoritarian or dictatorial regime is to gain
control of communications, particularly the delivery of news.
It is fair to conclude, therefore, that one-party control of the
press and media is a threat to a viable democracy. It may even
give rise to countervailing extremism. The First Amendment
guarantees a free press to foster a vibrant trade in ideas. But a
biased press can distort the marketplace. And when the media
has proven its willingness—if not eagerness—to so distort, it is
a profound mistake to stand by unjustified legal rules that serve
only to enhance the press’ power.
Erik Wemple of Washington Post weighed in:
My question for Judge Silberman: Does he believe that NYT v. Sullivan somehow *doesn’t* protect Fox News-New York Post-Wall Street Journal? I would argue that those outlets — particularly Fox — lean more heavily on the NYT protections than any other. Dissents?— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) March 19, 2021
What do you think? Are the current defamation laws keeping up with the Internet era?
Click: Take the poll.
Let’s wrap this up.
Thanks for stopping by How to Legal to prevent being duped by fake news or defamation when as I have been demonstrating you can use the good side of the Internet to prevent that from happening and ending up in prison or something.
As always, the more you learn about the justice system the more you will appreciate, respect and admire all the officers of the court who live by their oaths and follow the rules preserving the U.S. Constitution and democracy.
Be sure to check out more on this topic, including:
- How to Legal: Freedom of Speech: What’s slander? What’s Libel?
- How to Legal: Pleadings, defamation complaints, and altered exhibits
- How to Legal: The docket, and following proper procedures in a defamation case
- How to Legal: What’s a Table of Authorities? Lawyer submits case law that’s not applicable in a Defamation case. Dirty Tricks? Oops?
Signing off now for a music break before moving on to the next installment. For me, it’s the The Buggles 1979 hit, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” See Trevor Horn’s website.
What about you?
Update: A big and I think an important win for a public figure in a defamation case in Georgia.
“Cardi B [real name Belcalis Almánzar] wins $1.25 million + defamation lawsuit against YouTuber,” Yahoo, January 25, 2022.
Read the court filings here at Courtlistener: Case: Almanzar v. Kebe (1:19-cv-01301)
Since we are always learning here at How to Legal, here are the elements for defamation in Georgia.
Georgia Defamation Elements
In order to succeed in a defamation claim in the state of Georgia, plaintiffs must prove:
There was a false statement about the plaintiff;
The false statement was communicated to a third-party, and in the absence of a special privilege to do so;
There was fault on behalf of the defendant, amounting to at least negligence; &
The plaintiff suffered harm, unless the statement in question amounted to defamation per se. Smith v. Stewart, 660 S.E.2d 822, 828 (Ga. Ct. App. 2008).Minc Law
Here again, as the Cardi B case confirms, during proper defamation proceedings with judges who live by their oaths, the provable, true, false statements (read in context with applicable case law) were defamatory.
Judges who live by their oaths do not ignore or misrepresent evidence
Right? Right. Here we see Cardi B’s Federal District Court Judge, the Hon. William M Ray, did not ignore or misrepresent evidence she submitted which supported her claims. See for e.g. Document #180. As such, he is not a judge who can be seen as being in the tank with one party over the other, in violation of his oath and judicial canons.
Let’s wrap this up again.
Keep learning about defamation law and proper judicial procedures so you won’t be duped by fake news or oath, law breaking officers of the court, like attorney Sidney Powell. See also: Michael Berens and John Shiffman, “Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,” Reuters, June 30, 2020 and James V. Grimaldi, Coulter Jones and Joe Palazzolo, “131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest: ” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2021.
Don’t defame and don’t be duped when you can How to Legal.
Update: Cardi B Speaks Out After Being Awarded Additional $3 Million in Slander Lawsuit Against YouTuber: “I thought I would never be heard or vindicated and I felt completely helpless and vulnerable,” Cardi said in a statement shared with PEOPLE,
See Charmaine Patterson’s story at People, January 25, 2022.
To learn more about punitive damages go to: How to Legal: Identifying real problems in the U.S. legal system to combat fake news and misinformation, and scroll down.
Nothing on this website may be construed as legal advise. This information is for educational purposes and to serve as a public service to help combat fake news.
++ ARE YOU STUCK IN A MEDIA ECHO-CHAMBER, or know someone who is, and need help breaking free? Take The Break Free from Media Echo-Chambers 30-Day Challenge. There are problems on both sides of the political aisle and real problems that need to be fixed.
Acting on fake news just creates more problems that need to be fixed.
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