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1/13/2018 12:21:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Trump's ironic call for tougher libel laws

Kelly Hawes, Herald Bulletin CNHI News Indiana Columnist

Donald J. Trump is the master of irony. Take his promise to toughen this nation’s libel laws.

“We want fairness,” the president said. “Can’t say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account.”

Really? You can’t say things that are false? This from the man who claimed Barack Obama was born in Africa and that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz had been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

That guy says there ought to be a penalty for lying?

The Washington Post has been keeping track of the president’s lies since he took office, and it says the number topped 2,000 this week. The Post’s fact checkers say the 2,001st lie came during the president’s televised meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday.

That’s the same meeting where the president made his comments about libel.

And just to be clear, what the president described in those comments is already libel under current law. In the case New York Times vs. Sullivan in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to prove libel, a public official had to show that the false information had been printed with actual malice. To do that, the official had to show that the publication knew the information was false or that it acted with reckless disregard for whether the information was false or not.

That means that, contrary to what the president says, those evil news organizations do not have a license to lie. They cannot print falsehoods knowing they are false. That’s the very definition of libel, something most reporters learn in college.

For those who hadn’t noticed, I’m not a huge fan of Donald Trump.

Honestly, I never was. I wasn’t impressed when he was bragging about his sexual exploits to Howard Stern. I wasn’t a fan when he was bankrupting casinos, and I wasn’t a fan when he was firing people on TV.

I never thought he was qualified to be president of the United States.

He hasn’t demonstrated an understanding of the issues facing this country either at home or abroad, and he has not shown that he has the temperament to lead this nation in a time of crisis.

Still, I don’t believe that the man is mentally ill. Though I’ve seen and heard assertions to the contrary, I don’t believe he’s delusional.

I also don’t think he’s stupid or that he can’t read. I don’t think he’s incapable of grasping difficult concepts.

He might not be as brilliant as he thinks he is, but I don’t think his intellect is standing in the way of his success as president. The man is not a buffoon, though he does sound like one from time to time.

He does seem, at times, to be immature, a 12-year-old boy in the body of a 71-year-old man.

But we knew all that when we elected him, didn’t we?

We knew then that his grasp of the issues seemed lacking. We were well acquainted with his simplistic responses to complicated questions.

We knew early on that he didn’t respond well to criticism. We knew he seemed compelled to respond to a perceived slight even when he might have been better advised to let it slide.

We knew the man had a challenging relationship with the truth.

He is what he always was, a loud mouth with an overblown ego who doesn’t know when to shut up.

And that’s the truth.

2018 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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