Donald Trump on Wednesday revived the call he first made two years ago to change United States libel laws in order to block critical media coverage, when he posted a message on Twitter complaining about a new book by famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward — a book which, as The Inquisitr reported, contains a slew of damaging revelations about what Woodward calls a “nervous breakdown” of the entire Trump administration.
On Tuesday after excerpts from the book appeared in The Post, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Woodward’s book “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad,” The New York Post reported.
And on Wednesday, Trump himself echoed Sanders’ claim, writing on Twitter, “Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost.”
Trump then added, “Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?”
Libel laws are designed to penalize individuals and publishers who deliberately write and publish falsehoods about another person. In fact, Trump himself is currently being sued for libel by pornographic film star Stormy Daniels, as Reuters reports, who says that Trump defamed her by calling her account of being physically threatened by a man who used Trump’s name “a total con job.”
In the Daniels case, Trump has sought to dismiss the lawsuit claiming that it is “designed to chill the president’s free speech rights on matters of public concern.” But his publicly stated views on libel laws have been substantially different in cases where he, himself, is the target of damaging media reporting.
In February of 2016, in the early stages of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump responded to critical press coverage by pledging to “open up libel laws” if he were to become president, Politico reported.
“We’re going to open up those libel laws,” Trump said on the campaign trail. “So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
But under current libel laws, as explained by the Digital Media Law Project, publishers are not “totally protected.” If a plaintiff can show that a published statement is demonstrably false and that, at least in the case of public figures, the statement was published with “actual malice” — that is, knowledge that it was false or negligence in checking its truth — publishers would be subject to penalties.
In January of this year, following publication of an earlier Trump White House tell-all book, Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, Trump called U.S. libel laws “a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness,” according to The New York Times, adding, “We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts.”