A judge in Maryland ruled that a libel case against a blogger who suggested last summer that first lady Melania Trump may have been a “high-end escort” could go forward, rejecting arguments that Webster Tarpley was just republishing rumors he had heard.
The ruling caused the blogger to settle with Trump for an undisclosed amount of money, admitting defeat in what was likely one of the biggest libel victories ever won by a presidential family.
On Jan. 27, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sharon Burrell ruled against blogger Tarpley’s lawyer that his articles failed to meet the “actual malice” standard for publishing material against public figures, Politico reported.
Judge Burrell also dismissed a claim from Tarpley’s lawyers under an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law in the state, which essentially punishes litigants who file lawsuits in bad faith designed to silence individuals with fewer resources to defend themselves.
“The court finds the plaintiff has stated a claim for defamation,” Burrell said last Friday in her Rockville, Maryland courtroom. “The court believes most people, when they hear the words ‘high-end escort’ that describes a prostitute. There could be no more defamatory statement than to call a woman a prostitute.”
Less clear was whether Melania Trump would be able to proceed with a libel suit against the U.K. Daily Mail’s American subsidiary, which published a similar article before retracting it.
According to NBC News, Burrell said she would issue a ruling in that case at a later date. The Daily Mail has claimed that a Maryland court is the wrong venue to sue the New York City-based subsidiary of the British paper in, as well as arguing that an ongoing libel suit in an English court over the same matter makes the suit redundant.
Tarpley’s lawyers continued to contend that he was just publishing rumors he had heard elsewhere and publicizing them since he thought they would have an affect on the presidential race. Even as someone who does not necessarily advocate Trump’s proposed tightening of American libel law, this is complete crap.
If we here at USA Liberty News were able to reprint every rumor we found about politicians on 4chan and random blogs, believe me, my job would be a lot easier (and probably more fun in a profoundly superficial and amoral sort of way, if that’s how I rolled).
However, Tarpley’s defense is not only horrible journalistic ethics, but also the very definition of “actual malice” needed to win a libel case.
Heck, under Tarpley’s argument, I could go on a message board and anonymously post rumors about him, and if enough people picked them up I could argue he was Pol Pot’s secret torture dungeon master living under a false identity in the Maryland suburbs after fleeing Cambodia under dark of night when the Khmer Rouge government collapsed in 1979.
Is that accurate? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s probably physically impossible. Is it defensible under the rubric issued by Tarpley’s lawyers? Well, hey — I’m only reprinting rumors!
Thankfully, reason has won out in the Tarpley case: On Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers issued a statement saying that Tarpley had reached a settlement with Melania, according to the Washingtonian.
“The first lady of the United States has settled her lawsuit against Webster Griffin Tarpley of Maryland,” Charles Harder, Trump’s attorney, said in a statement. “Mr. Tarpley has issued the attached retraction and apology to Mrs. Trump and her family, and agreed to pay her a substantial sum as a settlement.”
“I posted an article on Aug. 2, 2016 about Melania Trump that was replete with false and defamatory statements about her,” a statement to the Independent Journal Review issued by Tarpley read.
“I had no legitimate factual basis to make these false statements and I fully retract them. I acknowledge that these false statements were very harmful and hurtful to Mrs. Trump and her family, and therefore I sincerely apologize to Mrs. Trump, her son, her husband and her parents for making these false statements.”
No word yet on whether Tarpley will still face charges for his role in the Cambodian genocide. However, he ought to be ashamed of himself. Did he never see “The Killing Fields”?
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