Although I am merely a blogger, a small-time blogger at that, I try to speak the truth. I research information, tediously at times, which is why I write 8-10 hours a day and produce little. If I see a story that piques my curiosity on a lesser-known or extremely partisan site, I go in search of further detail on more reliable sites. If I don’t find it, I keep the story on my radar, but on the back burner, awaiting better, more reliable verification. I probably do not need to be this tedious, as only a few read my blog faithfully, but a) I have a compulsion to maintain my integrity, and b) I have no money and cannot afford a lawsuit. Sometimes I sit on a story because I simply sense there is more, much more, to come, such as is the case with Roger Ailes, who is in line for the IOTW award, but not just yet.
More than once, I have gotten a “fact” wrong. It happens to the best of us. I apologize if apropos. All of us, whether George Will of The Washington Post, Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times, or we of the Blogosphere, respect and cherish the 1st Amendment of the Constitution that guarantees us the freedom to write what we see, what we think, and what we believe to be true without governmental censure. It is a right that journalists and even bloggers do not enjoy in all countries. Think of what has happened in the past year in Turkey, for example. And if we treasure that right, it is up to all of us to safeguard it. In large part, by safeguarding, I mean writing responsibly, not simply passing along information because it is interesting, controversial, or appealing to our readers, but verifying facts, refusing to publish falsehoods.
Which brings us to the headline that caught my eye and set me down this path of introspection:
Donald Trump’s latest act of media intimidation sets an alarming precedent – The Washington Post, 22 August 2016
Melania Trump threatens to sue several news outlets over reports she worked as an escort – Los Angeles Times, 23 August 2016
My initial reaction was that she follows in the footsteps of her husband, planning to sue every time a journalist writes something negative, and, as Trump has threatened, “open up” libel laws and curtail the freedom of the press. Then I went “in search of …” and found that, while I do not think she has a leg to stand on as regards a lawsuit, I think that irresponsible reporting may have opened a can of worms that was not necessary. And for what? To discredit Trump through his family? Granted, Melania Trump made herself a “public figure” when she spoke at the Republican National Convention on his behalf. Granted, her entry to the U.S. may be questionable. And granted, her former career as a nude model is open to speculation. As a public figure, she is subject to more intense scrutiny and somewhat looser reporting standards than the average political family member. But even so, there are standards of truth, of fact vs. fiction to be upheld.
The story, in short summary, is that apparently a Slovenian magazine, Suzy, published a front page story claiming Melania’s modelling agency in New York also operated as an escort agency for wealthy clients. From there, the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, picked up the story as a part of a bigger story about Melania’s past, albeit with some disclaimers about the veracity of the source. Still, it left questions unanswered, and the smaller, less reliable and more partisan outlets, including Liberal America, BipartisanReport, and Inquisitr, got on the bandwagon. All three of the small, independent sources have issued retractions or apologies, although at this time the threat of a lawsuit is just that, a threat. Liberal America, a small, independent and extremely partisan on line source had the most interesting apology, starting with, “This is being written under duress because I don’t have enough money to fight a legal battle against the Trump machine.” You can read the entire ‘apology’ here .
The Washington Post, who noted that the facts are sorely lacking and refused to comment on the veracity of the original story, makes a valid point however:
Trump has vowed to “open up” libel laws to make it easier to sue media companies that print negative stories about public figures such as himself, even if they are true. Right now, it is difficult for public figures to win libel cases — in the United States anyway. Proving a news outlet got a story wrong is not enough; Trump would have to show that journalists knowingly published a false story or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
But the point of suing is not always to win. If Trump … is willing to bankroll lawsuits against news outlets — or at least threaten to do so — they could have a chilling effect on the press.
This, then, is the point — not only to those of us who write, whether for a living or for hobby, but to the general public who rely on being able to hear or read uncensored news every day.
Understand that I have no problem whatsoever with mocking da trumpeter, or even Melania, based on things they have actually said or done. I have, and will continue to critique and criticize Trump for his incessant ignorance, vitriol and bigotry. I have also made mention, and reserve the right to continue to do so, of Melania and her former career as a nude model. I stop short, however, of writing as a truism something that I have gleaned from only a Facebook meme without reliable verification. That is just the standard to which I hold myself, and would do so even without threats of a lawsuit. Frankly, I long for the day that my blog comes into da trumpeter’s radar and he actually reads one of my snarkier posts about himself! It is the stuff of my dreams! And it is a dream I hope I can keep on having, rather than end up as Cam Dündar, jailed for speaking my mind, for speaking the truth.
Even though Donald Trump is unlikely to be the next President of the United States, and Melania is equally unlikely to succeed Michelle Obama, they have opened doors and raised questions about just how far our 1st Amendment rights can go. Let us guard them as we would a cherished antique, lest they become an antique.