WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Jan 10) vowed to rewrite US libel law, after an explosive book portrayed him as out of his depth in the White House.
“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws,” Trump said after a meeting of his cabinet on his first year in office and plans for the year ahead.
Trump said the laws should be changed so that “when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts.”
“Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness,” he said, renewing a long-held desire for curbs against what is written about him.
Trump’s statements – in the context of a meeting with ministers about his agenda – are likely to raise concerns about curbs on free speech.
The 71-year-old president has been infuriated by the publication of Fire And Fury, an incendiary tell-all book by author Michael Wolff about the inner workings of the White House.
While the book contains some glaring errors and gossipy accounts of events, much of it had already been reported by more rigorous news outlets.
Trump had tried to prevent the book from being published, instructing his lawyers to issue a cease and desist order.
He successfully campaigned for the book’s main source – former chief strategist Steve Bannon – to be forced out of his post-White House job as editor of Breitbart.
“We want fairness,” said Trump. “You can’t say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account.”
Trump has long threatened to sue people for perceived insults, but it is unclear whether he will be capable of following through on his promise.
Changing libel laws in the United States would likely need the US Supreme Court to weigh in.
Thanks to Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch, the court now has a conservative majority, but may not necessarily fall in line behind the Republican president.
But his campaign could have a chilling impact nonetheless.
Since announcing his run for office, Trump has launched a sustained series of attacks on the US press, calling out unflattering coverage and encouraging supporters to attack individual journalists.
Many reporters covering the White House have received death threats and get regular hate mail from Trump supporters.
Stepping up his campaign, Trump has promised to hold “Fake News Awards” later this month.
“The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th,” he recently tweeted.
That and similar attacks recently prompted the Committee to Protect Journalists to name Trump as one of five leaders “who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media.”