The so-called Sullivan rule, which largely freed the media from pursuit by libel lawyers, is the gold standard in American newsrooms. Gold doesn’t collect tarnish. Nevertheless, thoughtful publishers, editors and libel lawyers warn that when anything goes and irresponsibility is regarded as a virtue, the media will eventually see its checks returned marked “insufficient funds.” It takes a clever man or institution to overdraw an unlimited checking account.
Sniping and rock-throwing at Donald Trump, a game that any number can play and nearly everybody does, has become a game with no rules and no referees, and worse, no editors to restrain obstreperous children breaking up the furniture.
CNN, once a fairly reliable source of news, with a weakness for trivia and given to peddling old news as the new thing, is now an inviting target for imaginative libel lawyers. Three of its most prominent editors and “producers” were sacked this week after the network was forced to retract and apologize for a story it made up about a confidant of President Trump, that he and his hedge fund was being investigated by the U.S. Senate for colluding with the Russians for nefarious purpose.
Mr. Trump predictably crowed “Fake news!” in his usual capital letters. This time he had a point.
Sarah Palin, once upon a time the Republican candidate for vice president, sued The New York Times this week for accusing her in an editorial of “inciting” the attack on Gabby Giffords, an Arizona congresswoman, that left her gravely wounded and six others dead. The New York Times said in an editorial that Mrs. Palin incited murder, because her political-action committee circulated a map with crosshairs imprinted over the districts of 20 Democratic congressmen targeted for defeat — not death — in the congressional elections of 2012. The newspaper retracted the editorial, without apology, the next day.
[Wesley Pruden is Editor-in-chief Emeritus of The Washington Times]