Judge slams one-party control of media, libel protections for fake news
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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 23, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge issued a scathing indictment of the national news media this month, arguing that the press’ near-unanimous support of one party over another presents a “threat to a viable democracy.”
The remarks came as part of a dissenting opinion to a ruling in which the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a defamation suit brought against the environmental group Global Witness, which had falsely accused two former Liberian officials of accepting bribes from oil giant Exxon, on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to show the group had acted with “actual malice.”
D.C. Circuit Senior Judge Laurence Silberman, who had been appointed by President Ronald Reagan, dissented from the case.
After disputing the majority’s interpretation of the facts of the case, he declared that the “actual malice” standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan decision, which has the effect of making it difficult for public political actors to win defamation suits, should be overturned as a “threat to American Democracy” while admitting such a development is unlikely because “doing so would incur the wrath of press and media.”
“There can be no doubt that The New York Times case has increased the power of the media,” he wrote. “Although the institutional press, it could be argued, needed that protection to cover the civil rights movement, that power is now abused. In light of today’s very different challenges, I doubt the Court would invent the same rule.”
“As the case has subsequently been interpreted, it allows the press to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity,” Silberman went on. “It would be one thing if this were a two-sided phenomenon, (but) the increased power of the press is so dangerous today because we are very close to one-party control of these institutions.”
Silberman went on to note that The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, “most large papers across the country,” “nearly all television,” and even the government-subsidized National Public Radio are all heavily slanted in the Democrats’ favor, as is Silicon Valley, which “has an enormous influence over the distribution of news.”
“Ideological homogeneity in the media — or in the channels of information distribution — risks repressing certain ideas from the public consciousness just as surely as if access were restricted by the government,” he warned. “And when the media has proven its willingness — if not eagerness — to so distort, it is a profound mistake to stand by unjustified legal rules that serve only to enhance the press’ power.”
Silberman’s opinion sparked an intense negative reaction from media outlets and left-wing scholars, such as Laurence Tribe, who accused him of attacking “the core of our constitutional order.” The Washington Post, which recently admitted to publishing false quotes that reflected negatively on former President Donald Trump two months after the fact, published an editorial calling Silberman’s comments “alarming.”