ABA publication will run Trump-critical story despite possible backlash

by Sol Dolor02 Nov 2016
Despite a possible lawsuit from Donald Trump, a publication of the American Bar Association (ABA) will run a story that’s critical of the US presidential candidate.
 
The ABA is said to have initially had objections and requested edits to parts of the story which was slated to run in Communications Lawyer.
 
The Association drew criticism from media lawyers and the wider community after a New York Times report said that the organisation refused to publish the report it had commissioned.
 
However, Chuck Tobin, a partner at Holland & Knight and former chairman of the ABA communications law group, has revealed that the story written by Susan Seager will be published, according to a report from Law.com.
 
Tobin, who was involved in conversations about the article, said the story originally titled “Donald J. Trump is a Libel Bully but also a Libel Loser” will run without edits.
 
The turnaround comes after ABA deputy executive director James Dimos wrote an email to editors of Communications Lawyer on October 19 proposing edits that removed or replaced certain words and paragraphs, Law.com reports.
 
Rather than have the article edited, Seager pulled it from the publication and the full and annotated version was subsequently published by Vox Media’s The Big Idea.
 
The ABA has denied that it quashed the report, saying editorial and legal staff of the ABA’s media lawyer subgroup publication only offered professional opinion for edits that would reduce the supposed partisan tenor, ad hominem tone and the profile as a target for a suit, according to The Big Idea editor Christopher Shea.
 
However, Seager told Shea that it was clear the changes were nonnegotiable. Lawyer Steve Zansberg who was involved in the discussions about the story told Law.com that it was “fairly well understood” that the edits would have to be done for the story to be published.
 
David Bodney, the immediate past chair of the ABA's media law subgroup told Vox in an email: “In my experience, the ABA's attempt to dilute Ms. Seager's article was extraordinary, if not unprecedented, and demonstrates the importance of lawyers standing up against actions taken under the guise of our libel laws that would chill freedom of expression.”
 
Speaking to Law.com, Seager said that she “decided to call [the ABA’s] bluff” after the Association said last week that they did not bar the story and would not have the authority to do so.
 
The author, an independent practitioner in California who also teaches media law at the USC’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, said that a past ABA email makes it clear that the organisation’s claim it did not refuse to publish the story was false.
 
Seager has resubmitted the commissioned article to Communications Lawyer and it’s scheduled to be published within the next week.
 
ABA president Linda Klein insists that the Association did not refuse to publish the article which contains the author’s and not the Association’s opinions.
 
“The ABA has a long-standing policy encouraging jurisdictions to adopt legislation to eliminate Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (Anti-SLAPP laws). Hopefully, this matter will shine a light on the problem of frivolous lawsuits that turn the justice system into a weapon that has a chilling effect on free speech,” Klein said in a statement.
 

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