The end of libel

At a media confab yesterday (which I’ll blog about after my media confab today… and, yes, I do get the sense that media is becoming meta: just talking about talking about things), Susan Crawford dropped a big thought over a cup of coffee in the hall: Asked the question that is always asked at these what-about-the-bloggers evenets — what about libel — Susan said she thinks there is no need for libel law. She said the internet enables people to respond to libel in a way that was not possible before, when access to the press or the tower was essential to right a wrong.

The funny thing was that one of the big-media guys said he didn’t think that John Roberts would ever overturn libel laws based on the memo The Times has reported on the day before, in which Roberts allegedly argued that the extra protection afforded the press in the Sullivan case should be eliminated. But then the next coffee-cup-bearer said, oh, didn’t you see The Times’ (not-prominent-enough) correction this morning: Roberts didn’t write that memo after all.

Was Roberts libeled? Well, under Sullivan, he’d have to prove actual malice. Under Crawford, he’d merely have to blog and fisk The Times.

  • Grace

    I find this very interesting, in fact this is the reason I think that news should not be so conversational. With this migration to the world of blogs we are sacrificing ethics and credibility. In yesteryear, we would be required to submit our stories to editors prior to them being published, not just for grammer and spelling but for the bigger issue: protecting the paper’s name. It is highly unlikely that you would have witnessed any intentional libel in the Washingotn Post. As a media society I think it is extremely important not to through caution to the wind and say to hell with media ethics and to hell with our credibility. Aren’t we supposed to be reporting UNBIASED news? There are enough other ways to let the world know that some of our American icons are bumbling idiots, why do we have to taint a system that has worked so well for so long?

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “She said the internet enables people to respond to libel in a way that was not possible before, when access to the press or the tower was essential to right a wrong.”

    Putting aside the question of whether that’s an accurate gloss, the idea is both mathematically false and very, very, cruel. There are vast, enormous, disparities of audience between sites, and an ordinary blogger simply cannot hope to have the access to oppose being libeled by an A-lister. Now, there is a set of stock replies, that maybe the libel doesn’t hurt, maybe the audience is not important. etc. etc.

    But if one does care about being libeled – if the libel hurts, if the audience does matter – then the net is simply one more press ecology, with both sharks and minnows. Sure, one can sometimes get the help of powerful allies, or enemies-of-my-enemy. But that’s not any sort of deep change at all, just the same old game.

    I was “there” when the above net-changes-libel evangelism was put forward a decade ago. It’s not new. And it’s not true.

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