Like many conservatives, I firmly believe in a person’s fundamental right to free speech. It’s what allows citizens to defy authority and question government actions. Freedom of speech is inherently engrained in our society. It allows us the opportunity to protest and criticize those in power.
Defamation is the action of damaging the good reputation of someone. Because the United States is so adamant about citizens’ first amendment right to free speech, it’s incredibly difficult for one to win a lawsuit for defamation. In fact, the tort of defamation can only be won if two elements are met, the statement must be proven as false and the information must be disclosed to a third party.
Unfortunately, sometimes the privilege to freely speak is abused. Defamation is used to unfairly tear down someone else, to tarnish their name. Nothing is more disheartening than free speech being used as a tool to spout sexually offensive rhetoric or as a form of harassment.
Melania Trump recently brought a defamation suit against Britain’s Daily Mail which claimed the first lady, “worked as a top-dollar escort.” POLITICO reported that Judge Burrell said, “There could be no more defamatory statement than to call a woman a prostitute.”
Judge Burrell compared calling the first lady a high-end escort to implying she was a prostitute.
We need a round of applause for Judge Burrell. Not every judge would make such an insightful public statement in defense of the person bringing suit. Even in today’s society, implying a woman is a prostitute can wreak incredible havoc on her reputation.
This isn’t the first time a first lady has been the target of national criticism and it probably won’t be the last. However, it may be the first time a first lady has gone so far as to bring suit for false statements printed about her.
The leading lady of the nation should be the last female open to sexist attacks on her character. If nothing else, Mrs. Trump taking action shows that the progress of the women’s rights movement will not be slowed or intimidated. Regardless of your political stance, because of her place in leadership, her lawsuit will give courage to other women who have had false information shared about them to take legal action.
People who feel the need to attack the character of others based on their sex are people who show no respect for the right to freedom of speech. Abusing this freedom and using it as a way to mount unfounded attacks on the character of others only helps to limit freedom of speech. The more slander published, the more likely defamation suits will be filed and that’s just a slippery slope to court precedents set to limit free speech.
The truth is damaging enough in most cases, fabricating lies in the hopes of gaining fame only teaches the public to mistrust the media. It’s common knowledge that public figures lie. They build platforms upon telling their supporters exactly what they want to hear. It’s the media that the masses depend on to unearth the truth, but when media outlets start publishing articles with no foundation of truth it just builds the reputation of fake news.
For the most part, the media is depended upon to remain unbiased and counted on to investigate and publish all of the ugly secrets kept under lock and key by public figures we have come to trust and rely on. The power of the media is of such incredible importance. The public can only know what public figures allow them to know. It’s the media’s job to reveal more.
Defamation does more than damage another’s good reputation. It damages the idea of freedom of speech. It makes people begin to wonder if too much freedom is a bad thing. Misinformation only helps to deceive the public and give sympathy to public figures who have been found to be unfairly judged.
Freedom of speech is a reminder to our leaders that we are a nation with an elected government. Freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of speech are constantly under attack precisely because of how powerful these notions are. Defamation is just an unfortunate consequence.
Elizabeth Fequiere is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]