No Evidence + Alternative Facts = Libel

Back in my news reporting days, we were always on guard against libeling someone we wrote about. We were taught to check our facts before writing a story.

It wasn’t just the fear of being dragged into court and fined – or even sentenced to prison. We believed we had to protect our publication’s credibility as a reliable news source.

Now, that kind of caution seems quaintly old-fashioned.

The President of the United States tweets random accusations based on conspiracy theories concocted by the far-right propaganda machine. And his PR people explain he was relying on “alternative facts.”

He even goes so far as to accuse former President Obama of “wiretapping” his phone, basing his outlandish accusation on right-wing “news” reports.

His evidence? There is no evidence because it isn’t true.

Committees in both the House and the Senate wasted their time looking for evidence to back up Trump’s charge. Of course they found nothing.

In the process, Trump falsely implicated British intelligence officials, sparking an international incident.

It’s not just the new president. The right-wing media have become increasingly bizarre, churning out wild surmise and  fabricated charges under the guise of “news.”

Even in this no-holds-barred environment, Fox News star Sean Hannity (at right) is managing to raise eyebrows. He suggests the Hawaii judge who ruled against Trump’s most recent travel ban must have smoked marijuana and done “even a little bit of blow” with former President Obama.

Hannity cited no evidence, of course. He was just speculating, you see.  After all, Judge Derrick Watson graduated from Harvard Law School at the same time as Obama, so why wouldn’t he have done drugs with the former president?

Don’t you think that question should be answered in court? Barack Obama is now a private citizen, so he might have grounds for a lawsuit. As might Judge Watson.

It’s time to find out what’s permissible in today’s “news” environment. Past time.

Trump’s wiretapping charge

More on Hannity’s smear