Power Line

Sue the New York Times? They Deserve It

Peter Brimelow has sued the New York Times for defamation, as reported by PJ Media. Brimelow is not a nobody. Among other things, he was the senior editor of Forbes magazine from 1986 to 2002. Brimelow is now the proprietor of Vdare, a site that can fairly be described, I think, as anti-immigration, a perspective that it shares with millions of Americans. (My own often-expressed opinion is that we should have a merit-based system like Canada’s.)

But that wasn’t enough for the Times, which smeared Brimelow as an “open white nationalist.” Brimelow’s lawyer protested in a letter to the Times. The newspaper responded with a “stealth edit” that removed the word “open” while also adding a link to the disreputable Southern Poverty Law Center’s web site, which claims that Brimelow is a “white nationalist.” The complaint alleges that at that time, the Times knew that the SPLC was a dishonest hate group that couldn’t be relied on for a truthful evaluation of anyone. Which is a fact.

Brimelow’s complaint asks for $5 million, plus punitive damages. I would love to see him get it. The New York Times and the Southern Poverty Law Center are two utterly corrupt institutions that, in a just world, would be driven into bankruptcy by libel suits. The problem, of course, is the “actual malice” standard which is conventionally regarded as being impossible to satisfy. And with good reason. Here, Brimelow would have to prove that the Times’ reporters or editors knew that their description of Brimelow as an “open white nationalist,” or the SPLC’s characterization of him as a “white nationalist,” was a lie, but they published it anyway. Unless the newspaper’s employees were dumb enough to commit their dishonest intention to paper, that is pretty much an impossible burden.

Here, the fact that “white nationalist” is essentially a term of abuse with no precise meaning will help the Times. What is a “white nationalist”? I, personally, have never met one, and there is no “white nationalist” political movement. The concept is purely hypothetical. Absent any clear definition, the Times will argue that its description was a mere statement of opinion that can be neither true nor false.

So Brimelow will probably lose, unless the Supreme Court significantly revises the constitutional constraints on traditional libel law, as many believe it should do. Be that as it may, lawsuits like this one are an important contribution to freedom. Corrupt institutions like the New York Times and the Southern Poverty Law Center need to be attacked whenever possible, and popular support needs to be mobilized behind the idea that newspapers and partisan organizations should not be given carte blanche to lie with impunity about their political opponents.

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