President Donald Trump has previously — and unwisely — called for changing libel laws to combat what he calls “fake news.” I have previously criticized Trump for his calls for greater liability of the media for its coverage of the controversies surrounding his Administration, including his desire to sue Saturday Night Live. Now, due to the publication of a false quote from Trump by New York University Professor Ian Bremmer, Trump is again calling for a change in the law and ignoring that our defamation standard is anchored in the first amendment. Ironically, Trump himself was recently accused of posting a doctored clip of Nancy Pelosi and has repeatedly retweeted false or defamatory statements.
Bremmer peached “professional studies” at NYU and is the founder of the Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm. For some reason, Bremmer decided to post a false quote from Trump: “Kim Jong Un is smarter and would make a better President than Sleepy Joe Biden.”
Bremmer succeed in not only embarrassing himself and his organization but played right into the narrative for Trump who was able to move beyond his own Pelosi tweet controversy. He denounced the quote as fake news and called again for changes in the law: “People think they can say anything and get away with it. Really, the libel laws should be changed to hold Fake News Media accountable!”
.@ianbremmer now admits that he MADE UP “a completely ludicrous quote,” attributing it to me. This is what’s going on in the age of Fake News. People think they can say anything and get away with it. Really, the libel laws should be changed to hold Fake News Media accountable!33.3K4:57 AM – May 27, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy15.9K people are talking about this
Bremmer’s response was lame and unapologetic: “This is objectively a completely ludicrous quote. And yet kinda plausible. Especially on twitter, where people automatically support whatever political position they have. That’s the point.”
Really? That’s the point? I thought the point was to show that adults can engage in juvenile trolling operations designed to spread false stories about those you disliked. Apparently, this is what passes for constructive political analysis by the Eurasia Group.
The standard for defamation for public figures and officials in the United States is the product of a decision decades ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. Ironically, this is precisely the environment in which the opinion was written and Trump is precisely the type of plaintiff that the opinion was meant to deter. The Supreme Court ruled that tort law could not be used to overcome First Amendment protections for free speech or the free press. The Court sought to create “breathing space” for the media by articulating that standard that now applies to both public officials and public figures. In order to prevail, someone like Trump must show either actual knowledge of its falsity or a reckless disregard of the truth.
However, Bremmer has succeeded in undermining critics of Trump and showing that liberals engage in the same false narratives that they denounce from the other side. He is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at Time which normally demands conduct slightly above that of a middle school student with a Twitter account without parental controls.
Update: Bremmer belatedly apologized: “My tweet yesterday about Trump preferring Kim Jong Un to Biden as President was meant in jest,” he wrote. “The President correctly quoted me as saying it was a ‘completely ludicrous’ statement. I should have been clearer. My apologies.”