The Politics of Defamation | Medium

Alex Jones of Infowars

Jose Luis Magana/AP

Families tyrannized by Alex Jones, far-right radio show host and founder of Infowars, recently won a libel suit against him. The families are seeking monetary compensation for Jones’ false claims that the massacre of children and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 was a hoax. (Jones has asserted his intent to appeal the court ruling which was based on procedural failures rather than on the merits of the case.)

Dominion Voting Systems Inc. can continue to move forward in its defamation suit against Fox News. Dominion seeks 1.6 billion dollars in damages from Fox News for shattering Dominion’s reputation by broadcasting false claims that Dominion was part of a vast conspiracy to rig the 2020 presidential election.

The Sandy Hook families and Dominion Voting Systems (the plaintiffs) will succeed only if the superpower of the First Amendment is denied to their legal opponents. The plaintiffs’ seek to remove first amendment protections from the defendants’ words; they argue that first amendment freedoms should not be misused to promote falsehoods that wound. Defendants, of course, assert that the purpose of the First Amendment is to support speech; its protections can be removed only in the narrowest of circumstances, even in the face of untruths. Defendants insist that the First Amendment has no truth-o-meter, it protects speech without measuring veracity. And when it comes to public officials or public figures, the courts generally agree.

Public officials and public figures place themselves in the public eye and into positions of power. Their actions and speech can create community effects far larger than a person who is not spotlighted. As discussed in an earlier blog post, public…Read More

Lynn Greenky is an Associate Teaching Professor at Syracuse University in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies. She teaches a beloved undergraduate course about the First Amendment. She is the author of When Freedom Speaks: The Boundaries and Boundlessness of the First Amendment. You can follow her on Instagram @LynnGreenky.

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