Rick Blum, Policy Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, writes about President Trump's recent legal threats against the author and publisher of "Fire and Fury" to illustrate the need for stronger legal protections for journalists' reporting and other protected speech.
"President Donald Trump’s legal threats against the publisher and author of the most recent insider account of the White House may strike a nerve with journalists who are fearful of expensive legal defenses and chill valuable news reporting, but the threats could lose much of their power if states or Congress strengthened a tool that judges may use to dismiss meritless lawsuits involving speech protected under the First Amendment."
In 2006, a woman brought suit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Channel 4 Television network, and HBO’s Da Ali G Show, claiming that Cohen, while playing the role of “Ali G”, libeled her by name during a spoof interview with historian Gore Vidal.
In 1989, 60 Minutes broadcast a story about the harmful effects of a chemical called alar, used in apple growing. In this famous SLAPP, apple farmers in Washington state sued 60 Minutes and its parent companies, alleging more than $100 million in damages.
In 1995, the San Francisco Chronicle company invoked California’s anti-SLAPP law to dismiss a lawsuit brought against it and three reporters who had documented a dispute between a local university and the neighboring residents.
In perhaps the most well-known SLAPP, Oprah Winfrey was sued in 1996 by Texas cattle ranchers after a show called “Dangerous Food,” in which she invited experts on mad cow disease, and said she wouldn’t eat another hamburger.
In 2006, Jay Leno, NBC and others were sued for defamation by a woman claiming defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress based on statements he made in the show. NBC took advantage of California’s anti-SLAPP motion to have the case dismissed, and fees and costs awarded, with the court holding that no reasonable person could understand Leno’s statements to be factual or defamatory.
In Louisiana in 2009, the Lake Charles American Press was able to invoke the state’s anti-SLAPP law to dismiss a suit brought against it by a jet company, after the newspaper ran a series of reports that the company had sold contaminated fuel to the military.