A new report warns that Donald Trump and other billionaires have laid the groundwork for “an unprecedented legal assault on the media.” The report in The New York Times Magazine says Trump and his companies have already been plaintiffs in seven libel suits, including a case against then New York Times financial reporter Timothy O’Brien that was dismissed in 2009.
The O’Brien suit followed revelations in his 2005 book “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald” that indicated Trump wasn’t as wealthy as he claimed to be.
“O’Brien’s publisher, Warner Books, was also named in the suit and hired top lawyers who put Trump through an unsparing two-day deposition,” the story notes. “Asked about his finances, Trump was caught lying or exaggerating 30 times.”
The report quotes O’Brien, now the executive editor of Bloomberg View, saying: “He thought he’d get a friendly judge, and we would roll over. “We didn’t.”
“Trump’s suit against O’Brien is one of seven forays President-elect Trump and his companies have made as libel plaintiffs,” the report notes. “He won only once, when a defendant failed to appear. But the standard measure — defending his reputation and achieving victory in court — isn’t how Trump says he thinks about his investment.”
The report quotes Trump telling The Washington Post in March: “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”
The report adds: “Trump was wrong: Warner Books spent less than he did, and O’Brien paid nothing. But that doesn’t make Trump’s central idea any less jarring: that libel law can be a tool of revenge.”
During his campaign, the report notes, Trump talked about trying to “open up our libel laws.” While the president does not have direct power to change the rules for libel cases, the report notes, “Once installed in the White House, Trump will have a wider array of tools at his disposal, and his record suggests that, more than his predecessors, he will try to use the press — and also control and subdue it.”
The article adds: “In the last few years, Trump has been joined by at least two billionaires who are determined to exploit cracks in the wall of defense around the press. The members of this club are innovators. They have sued or funded suits to defend reputations or protect privacy. But an underlying aim appears to be to punish critics like O’Brien or even destroy entire media outlets.”
We encourage readers to click on the link near the top of this story to read the full piece in The New York Times Magazine.