Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Libel, Slander & Lies

Libel and Slander are laws that penalize careless and harmful speech.  They require malice or ill-will on the part of the speaker or author, they require that what is said or written be Untrue, and they require some kind of damage to the aggrieved party.

Famous people – political office holders and celebrities – are not protected by libel and slander laws.  Pretty much anything may be written or spoken about them with impunity on the part of the author or speaker.  The idea is that people in the public eye can defend themselves without the aid of the courts, that they have a voice that people will listen to, and that their credibility will be a match for their accuser.

A senator or a Congressman or even the President may speak or write, or be spoken to or written about, with impunity.  And with the exception of my damaging your reputation in a way that has harmful consequences to you, we can all tell lies.  Lying is legal in the USA!  This is good; else we’d all be in jail from time to time (research John Peter Zenger and the Alien and Sedition Acts for some interesting background history of what speech is legal in America).

But maybe there is a place where lies ought not to be tolerated: in politics where you and I are the audience and the true victims of the lies.  For in the political arena, when a politician tells a lie, the real victim is not the famous person being maligned, the real victim is the public who does not have the resources to tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

At the moment, the only response to this conundrum is “fact checkers.”  But which fact checker should you listen to, as there are more than one of them?  Some are hacks for one side or the other, and the rest compete for your attention by artificially pointing their finger of shame equally at both sides, in order to seem “fair.”  A less than perfect solution to a real problem.

This is one more problem that is a real problem that I am my wit’s end to suggest how to fix it.

Your suggestions are welcomed.