Daily Media Links 1/12: Trump Says Congress Won’t Change Libel Laws, But That’s A Decision For The States, Free speech trumps fake news, and more…

Free Speech

Detroit News: Free speech trumps fake news

By Ingrid Jacques

I’m a journalist. So all this derogatory talk about the media and fake news is annoying.

But what I find alarming is the growing demand to “do something” about false or misleading news. Such calls should make anyone who cares about free speech bristle. This week, I came across a trend I found unsettling.

It sounds innocuous, but several states have now passed legislation instructing schools they must teach students about “objective” news and how to differentiate between what’s true and false.

If schools want to voluntarily sign on to a growing number of programs that teach media literacy, that’s one thing. In the age of social media (the younger generation is getting most of its information through these networks), raising awareness of how to tell the difference between an established news outlet and some basement blogger is worthwhile.

But the government shouldn’t be involved in telling us what news outlets are OK and which aren’t…

People need to take responsibility for where they get information. That’s always been the case. Everyone just cares more now because of who sits in the Oval Office.

Trump Administration

HuffPost: Trump Says Congress Won’t Change Libel Laws, But That’s A Decision For The States

By Doha Madani

President Donald Trump criticized the United States Congress for a lack of willingness to look into libel laws, even though libel is regulated from state to state, in a new interview with the Wall Street Journal published Thursday.

Trump told the Journal that the explosive book on his administration, Fire and Fury, showed the need for new libel laws but that Congress doesn’t have the “guts” to do so. There are currently no federal libel laws in the U.S. that Congress could re-examine, as the criteria for libel is typically left to each state to decide…

It is unlikely that Congress could actually do anything to change libel laws as they stand, or make it easier for Trump to successfully sue Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff for defamation.

Public officials and figures must prove actual malice in libel cases, meaning that false statements about officials are protected unless the reporter published the information with reckless disregard for the truth. The Supreme Court established the actual malice criteria in 1964 with the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case.

ACLU: Trump Once Again Threatens to Change Federal Libel Laws That Don’t Exist

By Josh Bell

Fortunately, there are two strong obstacles standing in his way. Chief among them is the First Amendment, which clearly protects freedom of the press. But the other main barrier is the inconvenient fact that there is no federal libel law for President Trump to bully Congress to change. Libel cases are based on state laws, which neither the president nor Congress has control over because of our nation’s federalist system…

In the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan, the court found that a journalist who published erroneous information about a public figure without knowing it was wrong was constitutionally protected. The justices wrote that limitations on libel laws reflect our “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhib­ited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehe­ment, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” In a later case, the court said that if the legal system were to punish all false statements regardless of motive, it could “lead to intolerable self-censorship” by the press.

It’s a shame that the president continues to attempt to undermine one of the central tenets of our democracy. Luckily, the First Amendment and the press freedoms it protects aren’t going anywhere.

The Courts

Reason (Volokh Conspiracy): Court Vacates Ban on “Memes” That Depict Local Community Activist

By Eugene Volokh

“[I]t is difficult to reconcile how posting politically themed messages on a Facebook account about Moriwaki’s role with the Memorial Association can be deemed unlawful harassment while the act of picketing directly outside a therapist’s office in protest of the use of recovered memory therapy was considered constitutionally protected speech by the Washington State Court of Appeals in Noah. Both the posting on Moriwaki’s personal Facebook page (until Moriwaki blocked Rynearson from his page), as well as the subsequent creation of the ‘Clarence Moriwaki of Bainbridge Island’ Facebook page are an analogous extension of protected political speech or ‘picketing’ on the internet…. Whether Moriwaki is a ‘limited public figure,’ or simply a private individual, Rynearson’s public internet postings opining about Moriwaki’s involvement with the Memorial Association are subject to First Amendment protections….”

Independent Groups

Mic: How major spending by large and small Democratic groups may swing the 2018 midterms

By Will Drabold

This year’s galvanized electorate, plus historical trends, indicate that the Unites States is likely to see Democratic wins in November’s congressional and state elections. And now, spending among outside groups that are looking to help the Democrats take seats appears to be adding to the party’s advantage.

Mic contacted 37 Democratic organizations and outside groups to gauge their planned investment in the 2018 elections.

Eleven organizations that responded to Mic or have publicly announced their 2018 plans said they aim to spend a total of $279 million on electing Democrats from state legislatures to the U.S. Senate. That includes spending on advocacy – like TV ads tying Republican congresspeople to the unpopular tax plan.

For several organizations, this midterm election cycle will mark their largest investment ever…

Since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, when corporations were given the green light to contribute unlimited money into elections, midterms have seen a massive infusion of money from outside groups…

The $279 million that the 11 Democratic-supporting groups alone told Mic they would spend through the 2018 elections suggests an unprecedented level of outside spending is possible in the 2018 elections.

The Media

National Review: Stop Scaremongering. The Press Is Freer Than It’s Ever Been

By David Harsanyi

Trump’s attacks on journalists – some of them brought on by their own shoddy and partisan behavior – are often unseemly and unhealthy, but it hasn’t stopped anyone from engaging, investigating, writing, saying, protesting, or sharing their deep thoughts with the entire group – every day, all the time.

That’s not to say average Americans don’t have plenty of reasons to be worried about the future of free expression. There are forces gathering that aspire to criminalize dissent and punish Americans for their unpopular opinions. In fact, many of the loudest voices crying out about Trump’s fascism fully support these efforts, rationalize them, or are complicity silent…

While Trump’s efforts to stop fabulist Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury from being published are silly and counterproductive and sure to fail, he is merely accessing the legal rights that all Americans enjoy. In the meantime, Democrats currently support new laws that would allow the state to ban political books and documentaries. The years of President Obama made overturning the First Amendment via the overturn of Citizens United a tenet of the Democratic party platform. Obama, in perfect syntax, engaged in an act of norm-breaking by calling out the Supreme Court publicly for upholding the First Amendment. That was rhetoric, too. Few defenders of the press seemed bothered by any of it.

The States

Wisconsin State Journal: As GOP lawmakers threaten to oust ethics chief, commission readies sweeping audit of lobbyists

By Mark Sommerhauser

More than 10 percent of Wisconsin’s approximately 600 licensed lobbyists may be flagged in a state Ethics Commission audit of whether they met state disclosure requirements, according to the commission’s administrator, Brian Bell.

The review found some lobbyists may have been trying to influence legislation or administrative rules before they and their employers, the groups for which they lobby, had properly notified the state and public…

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, threatened to hold a Senate confirmation vote Jan. 23 on Bell and the administrator of the state Elections Commission, Michael Haas…

Both worked for the predecessor to the commissions, the former Government Accountability Board, which Republicans viewed as biased because of its involvement in a now-concluded probe of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign.

Washington Times: Campaign finance reform foolishness

By Deborah Simmons

The D.C. Council on Tuesday borrowed the title of Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” to broker legislation that is essentially veto-proof. The legislation, titled the Fair Elections Act of 2017, would require candidates running for city offices to accept either public money to finance their campaigns or business and corporate donations, but not both.

It also, among things, would lower the maximum donation to participating candidates.

If your pie hole is wide open, clamp it close ’cause you ain’t read nothin’ yet.

The legislation also would match donations from D.C. residents on a 5-to-1 basis if the participating candidate is running for mayor, attorney general, the council or school board…

[T]he heart of the “Fair Elections” matter is your freedom of speech is hijacked.

Fair elections, in these United States, mean a candidate win fair and square. Someone wins, someone loses – even when that someone is Hillary Clinton or Roy Moore.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.