“At the governor’s urging, Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature is pushing to weaken state laws that have long protected journalists against defamation suits and frivolous lawsuits. The proposal is part DeSantis’ ongoing feud with media outlets like The New York Times, Miami Herald, CNN and The Washington Post — media companies he claims are biased against Republicans — as he prepares for a likely 2024 presidential bid.
Beyond making it easier to sue journalists, the proposal is also being positioned to spark a larger legal battle with the goal of eventually overturning New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits public officials’ ability to sue publishers for defamation, according to state Rep. Alex Andrade, the Florida Republican sponsoring the bill.”
“the proposed bill goes further than simply decrying media bias. Free-press advocates call the measure unconstitutional and suggest it could have far-reaching consequences beyond major media outlets.
“I have never seen anything remotely like this legislation,” said Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “I can’t say I have seen every bill ever introduced, but I’d be quite surprised if any state Legislature had seriously considered such a brazen and blatantly unconstitutional attack on speech and press freedoms.”
He added: “This bill is particularly remarkable since its provisions have the vocal support of a governor and likely presidential candidate.”
DeSantis’ office said he “will make a decision on the merits of the bill in final form if and when it passes and is delivered to the governor’s office.””
“Andrade’s proposal incorporates many of the elements DeSantis called for during the roundtable, including:
— allowing plaintiffs who sue media outlets for defamation to collect attorneys fees;
— adding a provision to state law specifying that comments made by anonymous sources are presumed false for the purposes of defamation lawsuits;
— lowering the legal threshold for a “public figure” to successfully sue for defamation;
— repealing the “journalist’s privilege” section of state law, which protects journalists from being compelled to do things like reveal the identity of sources in court, for defamation lawsuits.
Stern said 49 states and several appellate circuits recognize a reporter’s privilege against court-compelled disclosure of source material and stressed that it’s essential for people to be able to speak to reporters without risking their jobs or freedoms.
“Journalists do not work for the government and it’s none of the government’s business how journalists gather news,” he added.
Andrade, however, said the privilege language in his bill would not allow a judge to force a journalist to reveal an anonymous source, but removes existing protections if they decide not to.”
““The law protects journalists from being ‘compelled’ by judges to disclose anonymous sources, but if a journalist has been sued for defamation, and wants to avoid liability, this section makes clear that they cannot claim a special privilege to avoid disclosing the source of the defamatory information and also avoid liability,” Andrade said.
Critics of the bill took issue with the section about attorneys fees, saying it could add a financial incentive to file defamation lawsuits and erode the laws preventing retaliatory lawsuits filed to silence criticism. Florida, like other states, has anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) laws designed to help stop frivolous lawsuits.
“One of my largest concerns with the bill is the rolling back of the anti-SLAPP protection for defamation defendants,” said Adam Schulman, a senior attorney with the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, which advocates for free markets, free speech and limited governments. ”That’s just moving in the wrong direction.”
He said beyond large media companies, some of which have legal teams, the changes could affect the “ordinary guy” who leaves an “unfavorable Yelp review.”
“At one time, it was not considered ‘conservative’ to advocate for turning on the spigot to all sorts of troll-like civil litigation that will line the pockets of bottom-feeding plaintiffs’ lawyers,” Schulman said.
Stern said the new bill would leave those protections “toothless.” Under most anti-SLAPP laws, individuals can recover attorneys’ fees if they can show they were sued in retaliation for criticizing the government.”
“The editors and publishers of The New York Times and several major European media outlets have released an open letter condemning America’s prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Assange faces 19 federal charges of espionage and hacking for his alleged role in helping Chelsea Manning get access to classified military reports from the Iraq and Afghan wars. Those charges were filed in 2019, but a superseding indictment from the Justice Department filed in June 2020 added more details and accusations (but not new charges), claiming Assange recruited hackers and directed them to targets. The Department of Justice’s position is that Assange is a hacker, not a journalist.”
“Leaders at The New York Times and The Washington Post have long opposed Assange’s indictment for the potential chilling effect. If Assange can be imprisoned for publishing classified documents, then couldn’t the editors of the Times or the Post or any other media outlet who also published these documents face the same fate?
In order to get around these First Amendment concerns, the justification for Assange’s prosecution is that he doesn’t qualify as a journalist. He is not a “legitimate” journalist. The problem with that argument is that it gives the government the authority to define who does and does not qualify as a journalist, which itself would seem like a violation of the First Amendment’s protections. There is no “legitimacy” distinction in the First Amendment. Journalism is an activity, not just a career. Many, many people have engaged in various forms of journalistic activities without being credentialed reporters for media outlets.”
“While he’s answered questions from reporters in informal settings numerous times and held a CNN town hall, Biden has now gone 50 days without holding a formal news conference. It’d be ideal for him to do one, but there are many good reasons he hasn’t yet — the urgent public health and economic crises he inherited, a pandemic that complicates logistics, and the legacy former President Donald Trump left him of presidential news conferences doubling as hate spectacles.
Still, it’s starting to aggravate members of the press corps, with the president of the White House Correspondents Association telling Vanity Fair that full press conferences are “critical to informing the American people and holding an administration accountable.” And the Washington Post editorial board wrote that “it’s past time for Biden to hold a news conference” — even while acknowledging that more press availability didn’t equal more truth or transparency with the previous president.
The careful wording of the Post’s editorial board exemplifies how journalists are having to reevaluate relationships to power and what it means to do adversarial journalism now that the White House isn’t the home of a habitual liar who routinely made reporters objects of hate, even while he was accessible to them with regular helicopter-side press availabilities and coronavirus press briefings that are best remembered for Trump floating the idea of disinfectant as a cure for Covid-19.
But on the cable network that benefited most from the Trump presidency, all of that nuance is lost.
Fox News has done its best in recent days to blow up the fact Biden hasn’t yet had a formal news conference into a major scandal, complete with special graphics and coverage across shows suggesting Biden is hiding something.”
“While it’s true that Biden has broken from modern precedent in not holding a news conference sometime in his first month in office, press secretary Jen Psaki answers questions from reporters every weekday during briefings that illustrate one of the reasons Biden might not be in a rush to do one himself.
Fox News’s Peter Doocy has distinguished himself during Psaki’s briefings by regularly asking loaded, gotcha-style questions on topics ranging from the national anthem to the Olympics to energy policy to school reopenings.”
“Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was confronted by a CBS reporter as he stepped off a plane. “What is your response to the New York Post story about your son, sir?”
To his credit, Biden dismissed the question, but that’s not really the point. The story the reporter was referencing, which was peddled to the Post by Rudy Giuliani, is absolute bullshit. The staff journalist who wrote the story even reportedly refused to put his name on the byline out of concerns that it was bogus and unreliable.”
“the goal of people like Giuliani was to get the press to cover a story not in order to convince people that it’s true, but to amplify a false narrative and divert attention — and maybe drive the public to exhaustion. It’s a strategy that Steve Bannon colorfully dubbed “flooding the zone with shit.””
“Three years after Kellyanne Conway introduced the doctrine of ‘alternative facts’ on his own program, a light went on for Chuck Todd,” Jay Rosen wrote. “Republican strategy, he now realized, was to make stuff up, spread it on social media, repeat it in your answers to journalists — even when you know it’s a lie with crumbs of truth mixed in — and then convert whatever controversy arises into go-get-em points with the base, while pocketing for the party a juicy dividend: additional mistrust of the news media to help insulate President Trump among loyalists when his increasingly brazen actions are reported as news.”