NYTimes to Trump: You Defamed Yourself, Bro

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 14, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Donald Trump is a litigious individual, and his legal team is fond of the cease and desist letter threatening legal action. So it's no surprise that Trump's attorneys sent the New York Times a Demand for Retraction letter in response to an article entitled "Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately."

These letters haven't always been the most convincing. So it's also no surprise that the Times responded, and in no uncertain terms. As for Trump's demand that the paper remove the article from its website and issue an apology, counsel for the Times replied, "We decline to do so." You can read the entire response, and some choice quotes, below.

Libel Liability

Trump's attorneys called the article "libelous," which, legally speaking, is defamation that can be seen, as in a writing, printing, statue, or movie. In order for a public figure like Trump to prove libel, he must show that the defamatory statements were made with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard of whether they were false, and that there was some injury to his or her reputation as a result of the statement.

In addressing this charge, the Times was absolutely clear, if not necessarily nice:

The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one's reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host's request to discuss Mr. Trump's own daughter as a "piece of ass." Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump's unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

Press Protections

The New York Times was actually involved in perhaps the most seminal case regarding defamation of public figures in the press when a police official sued over allegedly false statements made about him in the paper. In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment protects open and robust debate on public issues even when such debate includes "vehement, caustic, unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."

And their response to Trump's demand letter was succinct:

We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

You can read the Times' full response letter below:

Letter Re: Demand for Retraction by FindLaw on Scribd

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