Here I am, out of the gate on my second article, already wading into two controversial subject areas: Libel Law Reform and Sexual Misconduct. At the risk of being labeled the master of the mixed metaphor, put on your seat belts, folks, this deep dive might be a little bumpy!
As a fan of history, I really enjoy biographies of our leaders, particularly those of American presidents. I am still on a biography about George Washington by Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life. I am on the last CD of the audio book version, and I suspect I will start it over right away, as there are so many useful nuggets in that work that I listen to it as a history lesson rather than as pure entertainment.
One of the major surprises in that work is the degree to which the Father of our country was viciously maligned and libeled, especially after he became our first lame duck president.
One of his detractors, Benjamin Franklin Bache, was particularly pointed in his role as the editor of the Aurora Newspaper of Philadelphia, a leading Anti-Federalist rag at the time. Bache had absolutely no problem publishing “calumny” as libel was popularly known in that era, and the more outrageous, the better. One scurrilous item that was published during that time was an accusation that Washington had been bribed by the British to forestall the colonies winning the Revolutionary War. The convoluted logic behind the accusation was that it was in Washington’s interest to keep losing so that Congress would have to continue spending massive sums that the states really didn’t have to keep the army still standing to give Washington power he didn’t merit.
Washington was alleged to have been so corrupt that he accepted aid from the enemy to be a big spending defense hawk, to use today’s terminology, and to further his presidential ambitions, which were of course not presidential, but Monarchial, according to the fake press of the day. There is absolutely no shred of evidence behind this accusation, but the libel laws at the time were even less effective than today’s laws when it came to the defamation of political leaders.
Dueling was then an option to remedy some offenses to honor, but Washington did not engage in dueling, finding it beneath his dignity. He did not stop his trusted friends, in other circumstances, to vindicate his honor through dueling, but those instances did not involve libel in the form of political speech, for which it seems there was, and still is today, no remedy.
So, what does this have to do with sexual misconduct? Well, imagine if our libel system allowed public figures to sue for libel or slander upon an accusation of sexual misconduct, and imagine if the accuser could also have her (or possibly his) day in court with a counterclaim for libel because that accused celebrity/politician/CEO is falsely calling the accuser a liar.
A jury of their peers would essentially decide for us whom to believe, and you could make the loser pay for the legal costs of the prevailing party. This is a much more civilized process, and it is similar to the way the Brits deal with libels and slanders against the Crown and other public figures. It is more civilized than dueling, although a few duels would end sexual misconduct as well, especially if more women could handle a gun as well as my wife and many of my female friends.
But just as we have left dueling with guns in the past as too barbaric, maybe this would encourage greater attention to facts, and less attention to fact-less (and feckless) news, incredulous denials, suspiciously timed accusations and, above all, dueling by tweets. And the press would only have to report whether the accused has the temerity to bring an action against the accuser for libel. If he does, well then, let the civilized legal dueling begin. If he doesn’t, then he is guilty as sin, and should be shunned or denied his leadership post as the community to whom he reports sees fit. More about that some other time!
These are my selected thoughts, choice words, and prime beefs for today! Next week will be “Reader’s Choice.” Email your suggestions to me before Monday, Dec. 11 of this year! There is no prize, but you will get credit if your idea is selected! I might even use a bold font for your name!
Chuck Meyer is a Technology Lawyer, Patent Attorney and Small Business Counselor who imagines himself as the next Thoreau when sitting and writing near his own Walden Pond — the beautiful Lake Wedgewood in Panther Creek, Montgomery County. He views himself, foremost, as the male gender representative in a family that comprises his wife of 34 years (Monika), and his three adult daughters (Kathryn, Laura and Emily). He writes this column as comic therapy for himself and anyone else who finds any humor in it.