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Are libel lawsuits becoming the biggest weapon against the media?




A staff member with the transition team carries a printing press plate of the November 9th edition of The New York Times at Trump Tower, November 22, 2016 in New York City.
A staff member with the transition team carries a printing press plate of the November 9th edition of The New York Times at Trump Tower, November 22, 2016 in New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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Libel suits against the press aren't new. But in the era of "fake news" and Donald Trump's accusations against the "crooked media," libel suits may be hurting the press more now than in previous years.

For a public figure to be found guilty of libel in court, the plaintiff must prove that a statement is knowingly or recklessly untrue and published with "actual malice."

It can be difficult to prove libel was committed, but whether a public figure wins in court isn't always the point.   

Out of numerous lawsuits in the past 3 decades, President-Elect Trump has been involved in seven libel suits. And in the past five years, Gawker and Mother Jones have had high profile libel cases filed against them.

While actually proving that a news organization is guilty of libel in court, suing can be seen as a smart investment for wealthy public figures, keeping news outlets occupied for lengthy periods of time and steeped in legal fees, even if the cases are settled or dismissed. These cases can also chip away at the credibility of the media--a growing concern among much of the press.

Larry speaks to New York Times Staff Writer Emily Bazelon and Professor of Media Law Michael Overing to find out more about how libel suits are affecting media outlets today.

Guests:

Emily Bazelon, staff writer for the New York Times Magazine; she authored the article, "Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump"

Michael Overing, principal of The Law Offices of Michael Overing and an adjunct professor of media law at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism