Think Like a Libel Lawyer
Mar 11, 2019 11:51 AM EDT
My job, when I am doing it right, is to please no one. I'm a press lawyer. I'm paid by this newspaper to vet stories before publication.
Think of me as a story's first and worst reader: doubtful, questioning, blind to subtlety, skeptical of the facts, regularly prodding editors and reporters to do something more or different. And if I have done my job well, many of the subjects of those same stories will be unhappy as well, but for all the reasons we want them to be: We got it right.
The basic idea of libel law is simple. A publisher can get sued for making a factual statement that proves to be false and hurts a person's reputation. For those of us charged with helping news organizations avoid libel suits, that means we learn to look at the world through the eyes of the person at the center of any tough story, often the bad guy in the tale.