Thursday, January 20, 2022

Lawsuits silence first amendment rights of independent journalists

 Article Notes - The Legal War Against Mother Jones by Monika Bauerlin, Mother Jones, Jan/Feb, 2022, p.4

Using money to silence the exercise of first amendment rights.

We learned a big lesson from that case. Not “don’t publish hard-hitting articles because you don’t want to get sued.” But “lawsuits aren’t necessarily about winning. Some are just about inflicting as much pain as possible.”

It’s not about right and wrong, justice. It’s not even about the plaintiff wanting to win its case against the defendant. It’s about making the defendant pay exorbitant legal costs so that they avoid getting sued in the future by forgoing any thoughts or actions objectionable to the plaintiff. In other words, lawsuits become a mechanism used by those with money to silence those without it.

Support for independent journalism includes legal defense of first amendment rights.

In total, our legal costs over the past two and a half years have approached $400,000, not including the cost of insurance. The Covington case alone has cost $150,000.

It is very important for citizens to support independent journalism. This support includes not only the cost of producing the journalistic product, but the legal costs of defending their right to publish it when powerful interests object to it and attempt to silence it by suing.

Lawsuits for trivial reasons can do a lot of damage to independent journalism.

We’re dealing with a broader movement that is going after facts and truth wherever they manifest themselves—in science, public health, journalism. And one of that movement’s tools is litigation, because they know that, win or lose, litigation is a way to inflict pain. (Donald Trump has always known this: He used to say he was glad he sued reporter Tim O’Brien, even though Trump lost.) If you can force news organizations—especially independent ones—to constantly run up legal bills for comparatively trivial reasons, you can do a lot of damage.

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