Trump Administration Looking at Potential Libel Law Changes

(CN) – The Trump administration is looking at ways to change the nation’s libel laws to make it easier to punish reporters for stories the White House considers unfair and inaccurate.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke of the administration’s desire on a Sunday talk show, and President Donald Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, doubled down on those remarks during a briefing with reporters Monday afternoon.

Revising the nation’s libels laws “is something that is being looked into, substantively and then both logistically how it would happen,” Spicer said.

However, the administration concedes, in this case at least, there’s a wide gulf between talk and action.

The White House actually doesn’t have the power to change the libel law. It would require either a reversal of Supreme Court precedent or a constitutional amendment, a process that would require the change be proposed by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.

Speaking on ABC on Sunday, Priebus acknowledged there have been discussions at the White House about the issue, but added, “whether that goes anywhere is a different story.”

Libel law in the U.S. generally makes it difficult for public figures to sue reporters and others who criticize them. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a plaintiff must demonstrate that statements were factually inaccurate as well as made with “actual malice” or a “reckless disregard” for the truth.

Trump has railed against what he deems unfair media coverage, labeling many outlets “fake news” and declaring them “the enemy of the American People.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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