Let Presidential Candidates Sue One Another for Libel

By Cooper, Joseph H | The Christian Science Monitor, March 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

Let Presidential Candidates Sue One Another for Libel


Cooper, Joseph H, The Christian Science Monitor


How do we make America's 2008 presidential campaign more honest? With lawsuits - lots of libel lawsuits, to be specific.

Now we may need a bit of help from the United States Congress, and we may need the Supreme Court to look the other way, but, heck, such lawsuits would most definitely be in the public interest.

Return with me now to March 1964, when Justice William Brennan, writing for an essentially unanimous Supreme Court, delivered the landmark decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.

The court ruled that a public official cannot maintain a libel lawsuit against a publisher of an aspersion, disparagement, denigration, or the like, unless that public official can show that the damaging description or portrayal was published with actual malice.

In other words, a public official can only win a libel action if that plaintiff can prove that the damaging item was not only false, but - in addition - was published with actual knowledge that it was false or was published with reckless disregard as to whether it was true or false. OK, enough law stuff.

While the Times v. Sullivan decision was sound, admirable, and truly in keeping with the best tenets of the authors of the US Constitution, a teeny-weeny exception could be just the thing to rein in the campaign slurs that are soon to be launched.

The exception: Just assume that any candidate for the presidency who disparages another candidate for the presidency is doing so with malice, with knowing falsehood, and with reckless disregard for truth. It comes with the territory.

This little exemption would allow a presidential candidate who deems himself or herself directly slandered by another candidate to sue that person for defamation. …

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Let Presidential Candidates Sue One Another for Libel
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