Yesterday, Professor Lawrence Lessig joined the parade of famous people who have sued the New York Times, over the years, for an almost inexhaustible list of alleged defamations. This particular lawsuit is interesting in two different ways.
First, the defamation is characterized as being based upon “clickbait.” This is the practice that, in today’s world, people click through news posted on media and all they look at is limited to the electronic headline. Putting aside the substance of the underlying claim, the practical effect of finding liability here will put pressure on the way in which media sets headlines both electronically and, likely, in traditional type formats.
Anyone who has attempted to write a headline that fits into the allotted space knows that it is not always possible to capture the nuance of the situation in five or eight words; sometimes, you actually have to read what follows.
The second aspect of the case is substantive: the claim is that, notwithstanding Lessig’s efforts to set the record straight, the Times missed the point that in fact Lessig was not endorsing the actions of MIT in accepting donations from Jeffrey Epstein (a wealthy and convicted sex offender who killed himself while in prison facing sex trafficking charges). It may be that Lessig’s efforts will be complicated by the fact that he seemingly, and admittedly, changed his view of the propriety of MIT’s actions, over time.
Not surprisingly, the Times promises a vigorous defense, particularly since Lessig’s prior complaint to the Times was carefully reviewed by “senior editors” and rejected. Stay tuned.