Last night (12/22/16), I was flipping through TV channels when I took a few minutes to watch Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show as she was questioning a guest, Kellyanne Conway about whether the republican President-elect Donald Trump’s wife, Melania’s strategy to file defamation law suits against certain media publcations, would continue. Ms. Maddow kept asking if the intent of these law suits were designed to have media outlets like a blogger, face financial ruin, as Mrs. Trump’s attorney, Charles Harder deliberately did against the publication, Gawker with the Hulk Hogan case, backed by a billionaire, Peter Theil.
It appears that the media newspapers under suit have filed retractions with an apology, but Mrs. Trump is still pursuing legal claims against them. Ms. Kellyanne Conway, as the campaign manager to our president-elect would not say what Mrs. Trump’s plans would be, once her husband is ensconced in the White House.
The million dollar question being asked, is this an alternate method designed to censor the press?
I watched only a short portion of this interview. It was Ryan Mac and Matt Drange of Forbes who broke this story around May, 2016. The following excerpts are from their 6/29/16 post, “Behind Peter Thiel’s Plan To Destroy Gawker.”
As FORBES revealed in late May, Thiel is the clandestine financier of numerous lawsuits targeting Gawker Media, the New York-based company whose biting style of journalism has grated on the egos and sullied the reputations of some of the world’s most powerful people. The most damaging lawsuit–an invasion-of-privacy case revolving around a sex tape of the wrestler Hulk Hogan (real name, Terry Bollea)–recently resulted in a $140 million jury award and a national debate on the rights of celebrities versus the rights of a publication to disseminate what it considers to be newsworthy.
The revelation that Thiel paid Hogan’s lawyers–to the tune of about $10 million–has transformed that discussion.”
(Around October 4, 2012) “Gawker published a short video clip of Hogan having sex with his friend’s wife, Heather Clem. The next day Hogan’s personal lawyer, David Houston, requested that Gawker immediately take down the post. When the company refused, Hogan sued, filing paperwork in a Florida court with a new, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based lawyer, Charles Harder (January 2013). A celebrity attorney with clients like Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Harder held a press conference in Tampa, Fla. on the day of the filing, claiming that the publication’s actions were “illegal” and “exceeded the bounds of human decency.”
“Harder failed to mention that there was another party involved with the case, the one who would finance the legal battle with Gawker: Peter Thiel.”
“For much of this year, Gawker’s Denton floated rumors that someone was behind the Hogan lawsuit. Too many things didn’t add up. How could Hogan, who had recently gone through an expensive divorce, afford a high-powered celebrity attorney on what seemed to be a long-shot case? Why didn’t he accept several settlement offers? And why did he drop his claim involving negligent infliction of emotional distress–thus freeing the real deep pockets, Gawker’s insurance company, from paying any part of a potential recovery?”
“According to one person close to him, Thiel began airing the idea of backing lawsuits against Gawker with some members of his venture capital firm, Founders Fund.”
“Enter the new attorney, Harder, who has made pursuing Gawker a focal point of his new firm, Harder Mirell & Abrams. According to a former employee of Harder’s, someone in Thiel’s camp cold-called Harder at his previous law firm, Wolf Rifkin Shapiro Schulman & Rabkin, “looking for an entertainment lawyer.” By mid-October 2012 Harder had taken on Hogan as a client. Two months later, even though he was a partner at Wolf Rifkin, the 46-year-old with a southern California tan and bleach-white smile left to set up his own shop, taking the wrestler’s case with him. When Harder announced his new company in January 2013, he made his firm’s first filing on behalf of Hogan.”
“It gets weirder. According to multiple sources familiar with Harder’s arrangement, he never had any direct contact with Thiel. And, these sources claim, Harder didn’t even know who was funding the litigation until FORBES broke the news in May(2016). What he surely did know: The checks cleared. And there was presumably more where that came from, if he could find more cases.”
On 11/12/16 Washington Post, Dan Morse posted an article, “In libel suit, Melania Trump says Maryland blogger held ‘reckless disregard for the truth.”Three months ago, a 70-year-old political blogger operating from his Maryland townhouse let it rip.“
Where is Melania Trump?” he asked, going on to offer an answer: The potential first lady was reportedly having a nervous breakdown after her controversial GOP convention speech and her fears that a secret past would be revealed.
“It is also widely known that Melania was not a working model but rather a high end escort,” wrote Webster Tarpley in a blog post that would come to be quoted in court filings. Tarpley, a Princeton University graduate, has also asserted that President Obama is a puppet of Wall Street and that the 9/11 attacks were a “false-flag” operation.”
“Tarpley’s claims about Melania Trump, posted in the heat of the campaign, were followed by similar allegations published in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid. Both pieces attracted the attention of Melania Trump and her attorneys, and both publications posted retractions.”
“On Sept. 1, in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Melania Trump sued Tarpley and the Daily Mail for defamation. Her attorneys cited a series of published allegations, including those made in Tarpley’s blog post, according to court records. Now, as Melania Trump readies to become first lady, the lawsuit shows no signs of slowing down.”
“These are some of the most inflammatory allegations possible,” her attorneys (including Charles Harder) wrote in their most recent filing. “Tarpley acted with reckless disregard for the truth.”
His neighbor, Sam Rosenbloom, said Thursday that he has known Tarpley for more than 10 years and described him as a pleasant person.
“Clearly, political history is never far from his thoughts,” said Rosenbloom, a Trump supporter who recently spray-painted “Make America Great Again” on the back of his own silver SUV.
“I don’t think he thought what he wrote would be so hurtful,” Rosenbloom said of Tarpley’s blog post. “And obviously, he wasn’t sensitive to the reach of Donald Trump.”
In a statement to The Washington Post, one of Tarpley’s attorneys, John Owen, said: “Mr. Tarpley is a political blogger who desires to engage his readers in a meaningful discourse on matters of public significance. In this instance, he shared information that was available on other media outlets, as he felt it important that there be a public dialogue regarding the rumored background of the prospective First Lady of the United States.”
According to documents filed so far, the case could turn on the question of how far a publication can advance claims that it does not know to be true.
Tarpley has addressed the matter on his blog, saying he did not defame Melania Trump and he had simply passed on rumors and innuendo of others in his Aug. 2 “Morning Briefing” post.
“While the tarpley.net editors, writers and contributors did not generate said rumors, the briefing in question was not diligent in fact-checking or maintaining a healthy distance between innuendo and fact,” Tarpley wrote in his retraction and apology.
But on that stance, Melania Trump, through her attorneys, said that when read as a whole, Tarpley’s Aug. 2 posting asserted a series of bogus claims as fact.
This is how the blog post began:
“Where is Melania Trump? This question is being asked in elite parties at the roped-off clubs in Manhattan’s meatpacking district and other haunts of the gotham financier class. It is widely known among the jet set crowd that Melania never wanted Donald to run for president.”
It was then that Tarpley wrote, without attribution, that it was “widely known” that Melania Trump had once worked as a “high end escort.”
As the 29-paragraph post continued, Tarpley offered what he said were various sources for his information that included “unconfirmed reports,” “a knowledgable observer” and allegations “scattered across the internet.”Tarpley’s attorneys, in court papers filed last month, asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Tarpley wasn’t necessarily advancing the assertions as truth.”
“In response, Melania Trump’s attorneys said the matter should proceed to trial, because the blog post involved more direct assertions than opinion or hyperbole.”
“Publishing, or republishing, defamatory allegations which, in addition to being false, clearly have no basis other than as unsubstantiated rumor, and doing so without even checking the veracity of the information,” they wrote, “easily clears the threshold of reckless disregard for the truth.”
The Montgomery Circuit Judge assigned to the case, Sharon Burrell, has yet to rule on the motions.