March 6th, 2017

My favorite class in Journalism School was Dr. Dru Evarts’ Media And The Law. We spent a lot of time in that class on the two most important topics for any journalist: libel and slander.

When I first heard this weekend about President Donald John Trump’s accusation that President Barack Hussein Obama directed the tapping of Trump’s private office phones in Trump Tower, I immediately asked: did the sitting president just libel his predecessor?

Phil McCausland, reporting in Analysis: Does Obama Have Grounds to Sue Trump for Libel? for NBC News, writes:

President Donald Trump’s newest pivot might be his way to divert attention from his own Russia troubles by leveling a Watergate-level conspiracy allegation at former President Barack Obama.

But this latest assertion that Obama ordered illegal surveillance of Trump Tower during the 2016 election — tweeted without evidence — could get the president into some legal hot water.

Although the law provides a great deal of leeway for political speech, that protection is not all encompassing. And because of the way Trump has leveled unsubstantiated accusations at Obama, he may have libeled his predecessor.

“He’s basically stating that Mr. Obama committed crimes, and to state that somebody has committed a crime when it’s false is clearly defamatory,” said Benjamin Zipursky, who teaches defamation law at Fordham University Law School in New York.

“The question is: Is there enough evidence of serious reckless disregard to send that case to a jury?” Zipursky added. “I don’t know what a court would decide on that, but there is some evidence of recklessness.”

Does the president know that he can’t just make shit up?

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