Back in 2015, political strategist Cheryl Jacobus was courted for a key job with the Donald Trump campaign. But she backed away after his campaign manager, Corey Lewandoski, seemed to fly off the handle too easily. So instead, she started appearing on news shows as a neutral "talking head."
In January 2016, she appeared on CNN and said that Trump was "using the manufactured Megyn Kelly kerfuffle" as an excuse to skip the Republican debate, because he "comes off as a third-grader faking his way through an oral report on current affairs." On another program, she contradicted Trump's claim that he was self-funding his campaign.
Trump struck back with his weapon of choice: Twitter.
In a late night post, Trump tweeted that Jacobus had "begged us for a job." "We said no and she went hostile." A few days later, he echoed that Tweet with "begged my people for a job. Turned her down twice and she went hostile. Major loser, zero credibility."
Jacobus filed a $2 million defamation case against Trump. And at first blush, it seems like a good one. False statement of fact (she turned them down for a job, not the opposite). Fault (he knew the assertion was false). Injury to reputation (accusing her of slanting her judgment out of personal vendetta).
But today, a New York Supreme Court judge dismissed Jacobus's case, saying Trump's statements were not defamatory.
In her opinion, available here, Judge Barbara Jaffe said Trump's quotes appeared on the Inernet, where the "epithets, fiery rhetoric or hyperbole" advanced on social media are understood as "vigorous expressions of personal opinion." Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, she said, are forums that attract less credence to allegedly defamatory remarks."
Trump's tweets about critics, the judge wrote, are "rife with vague and simplistic insults." And although these tweets were clearly intended to "belittle and deman" Jacobus, the judge found that a reader would not reasonably take them seriously and believe them to be based on fact.
The lesson here is that, like many judges, Judge Jaffe bent over backwards to construe possibly defamatory comments as opinion and not factual. Defamation made on social media may be much harder to prove.
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