We Don’t Need Bad Laws

Walter E. Williams – March 15, 2018

President Donald Trump said, “We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts.” The president was responding to statements made in Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

Our nation does not need stronger laws against libel. To the contrary, libel and slander laws should be repealed. Let’s say exactly what libel and slander are. The legal profession defines libel as a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation. Slander is making a false spoken statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation.

There’s a question about reputation that never crosses even the sharpest legal minds. Does one’s reputation belong to him? In other words, if one’s reputation is what others think about him, whose property are other people’s thoughts? The thoughts I have in my mind about others, and hence their reputations, belong to me.

One major benefit from decriminalizing libel and slander would be that it would reduce the value of gossip. It would reduce the value of false statements made by others. Here’s a Gallup Poll survey question: “In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media — such as newspapers, TV and radio — when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly — a great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?” In 1976, 72 percent of Americans trusted the media, and today the percentage has fallen to 32. The mainstream media are so biased and dishonest that more and more Americans are using alternative news sources, which have become increasingly available electronically.

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