How to Respond If You Are Libeled


We conservatives get libeled a lot. If you are Donald Trump or Sarah Palin, there is no remedy: it is open season on politicians and former politicians. But most of us are not in that category. My organization and one of our policy fellows were libeled recently, and we fought back. What followed should encourage all who are wrongly maligned by liberals.

I told part of the story here: American Experiment is putting on a series of programs on crime across Minnesota, featuring Policy Fellow Jeff Van Nest along with local law enforcement officials. One of those events was scheduled for March 15 in Rochester, at the Rochester Golf and Country Club. It was canceled at the 11th hour by the club in response to pressure by far leftists. We have sued the club for breach of contract and will pursue that case to a jury verdict.

Meanwhile, the Rochester Post Bulletin ran two stories on our event, one the day before and one on the day when it was scheduled to occur. These stories, evidently written by leftist reporters, were full of inaccuracies. Absurdly, they linked Jeff Van Nest, a 20-year FBI veteran and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, to a debunked conspiracy theory, saying he was “attached to” that theory, whatever that means. They accused Jeff of holding non-mainstream views and likened American Experiment to a notorious Democratic Party outfit in the South that used to carry out lynchings.

Jeff Van Nest, who has a spotless reputation, was unused to being libeled in the press. So he retained the Upper Midwest Law Center to represent him. His lawyer demanded that the Post Bulletin immediately retract their defamatory articles, on the front page of the paper where the first article appeared.

I think the newspaper’s editor realized that his company had no defense, that there was ample evidence of actual malice, and that a jury verdict for punitive damages could put the paper out of business. (Newspapers often carry insurance coverage against defamation claims, but such insurance does not cover punitive damages, which are recoverable on a showing of actual malice, i.e. reckless disregard of the truth.) In any event, he did the right thing: the paper published a full and unequivocal retraction of the defamatory articles on its front page. This is an image of the page containing the retraction:

This is the text of the retraction:

The Post Bulletin electronically published articles on March 14 (“Are ‘crime wave’ claims out of place in Rochester?”) and March 15 (“Lawsuit filed after Center of the American Experiment event canceled”), which contained a material factual inaccuracy concerning Mr. Jeffrey Van Nest, a 20-year FBI veteran and current policy fellow for Center of the American Experiment (CAE). The articles inaccurately linked Mr. Van Nest to a discredited conspiracy theory with which he has no connection. The March 14 article also included a subheading and a quote from a third party which improperly attributed non-mainstream policy views to Mr. Van Nest and a similarity between Mr. Van Nest and a racist political organization. The Post Bulletin regrets this inaccuracy and these portrayals and unconditionally retracts them in full.

The March 14 article’s subheading and quote also attribute non-mainstream policy views to the Center of the American Experiment and contain an implicit comparison between CAE and the same racist organization. To the extent this subheading and this quote could be interpreted as suggesting that CAE holds policy views out of the mainstream, or that the CAE event was in any away comparable to that racist organization’s meetings, those interpretations are unequivocally false. As noted above, the Post Bulletin unconditionally retracts these portrayals.

More here. The moral of the story is that conservatives don’t have to take defamation lying down. We all know that reporters misrepresent us continually, by commission and by omission. Sometimes the lies cross the line and become actionable. The law can be a potent ally.

Kudos to the Upper Midwest Law Center (you can donate here), to Center of the American Experiment (you can donate here), and to the Rochester Post Bulletin. It is good to see a news organization take responsibility for its reporting and retract when it is obvious that its reporting was wrong and defamatory.

The moral of the story is, if you are defamed, you don’t have to take it lying down. Be prepared to sue.



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