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In-House Counsel Meet at MLRC to Discuss Trump’s Attacks on the Media

About 25 in-house media counsel met at the MLRC offices in mid-December to discuss strategies to respond to President Trump's attacks and threats on the media. It was, in a sense, a repeat of a similar meeting help two years ago, in December '16, in anticipation of a Trump Administration.

George Freeman's invitation letter set out the agenda: "The never-ending barrage of White House attacks against 'the enemy of the people' and the purveyors of purported 'fake news' continues unabated and largely without effective response, leading to the media's credibility being at an all-time low. The moves against Julian Assange suggest more threats against both leakers and publications which run leaked information. Three First Amendment litigations against the White House are underway, whose cost/benefit analyses might be instructive. And journalism on the President has become more difficult and problematic as the media is being criticized for becoming too opinionated, biased and even a cause for the country's polarization – yet how else to cover a President who has made more than 6,420 false or misleading claims in less than two years (WaPo)?"

The meeting began with brief talks from three lawyers who recently brought suits against the White House, David Vigilante (CNN/Jim Acosta), Suzanne Nossel (PEN America re Trump's chilling First Amendment speech and activity) and Katie Fallow (Knight Foundation re Twitter blocks). They were asked to discuss the cost/benefit analyses that they went through before commencing litigation. From a legal standpoint, there was a general consensus that we were not worried about Trump's empty threats on libel, that the Government FOIA responses were not materially slower or more restrictive than prior administrations', that we did not expect many more retaliations against journalists due to their content leading to barring them from White House access, and that the biggest threat was the possibility of continued prosecutions against government leakers, or worse, a possible prosecution against a media entity for publishing a leak they legally received. MLRC is planning to draft a model brief that could be used in that eventuality, a plan which was welcomed by the group.

Although it is a little out of our purview, responses to Trump's PR attacks on the media and the best ways to journalistically deal with his tweets and lies were also discussed, as they are inextricably intertwined with the legal threats. Although the discussion of these non-legal matters was very interesting, no ground-breaking conclusions were reached.

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