The Washington Post’s publication of excerpts from Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House” has unleashed a tweetstorm in which president Trump says he doesn’t know “why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws.”
After Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” was released in January, Trump said, “We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts.”
However, defamation laws in the U.S. differ from state to state, so Washington politicians would have a difficult road ahead of them if they set themselves the task of establishing a uniform national standard of what constitutes libel.
“While the elements of defamation are largely identical throughout the country,” according to the Media Law Resource Center, “because defamation is a matter of state law there can be important differences on substantive and procedural details of the claim in the separate jurisdictions.”
The Supreme Court has weighed in from time to time, however. In the 1964 case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Court ruled that, for a victory in a libel case, public officials must prove the media outlet in question knew either that the information was wholly and patently false or that it was published "with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”
The president has posted testimonials from top White House staffers to bolster his claims of the book’s inaccuracy. A statement from John Kelly says that “The idea that I ever called the President an idiot is not true, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite.” James Mattis’ statement claims that “the contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence.”
Trump has also asked if Woodward is a “Dem operative” and says that “Fear” is “already discredited.”
Trump’s thumbs-down does not appear to be hurting the book’s fortunes, however. It currently sits at No. 1 on the Amazon Top 100 list.