FREDERICK RYAN JR., WASHINGTON POST PUBLISHER: Mr. Trump, you’ve mentioned many times during the campaign, in fact including this morning, instances you feel where the press has been biased or unfair or outright false in their reporting, and you’ve mentioned that you want to “open up” the libel laws. You’ve said that several times.Right there, Trump is trying to take control of the interview. He wants to talk entertainment style and work his way around to some policy. This is the way Rush Limbaugh proceeds, and it's what I do as a blogger. It feels right to warm up and have some fun talking about something that happened in the news — something with a colorful celebrity — to get the mind's currents flowing, and see where that takes you. For example, I'm pretty far from where I began this post, and I really don't know where I'm going.
TRUMP: I might not have to, based on Gawker. Right?... That was an amazing—
RYAN: My question is not so much why you feel they should be open but how. What presidential powers and executive actions would you take to open up the libel laws?Ryan is operating in a different mode, focusing on a legal issue, demanding precision. I understand this mode too. It's close to what I'd do as a law professor. You know, sometimes students want to say how they "feel" about an issue, and I've got to interrupt — I get criticized for interrupting — and make it into something that works for classroom purposes.
TRUMP: Okay, look, I’ve had stories written about me – by your newspaper and by others – that are so false, that are written with such hatred – I’m not a bad person. I’m just doing my thing....I’m not a bad person. I’m just doing my thing.... great Trump quote. Great quote for... everybody. Try it at home, kids. Let me know how it works out.
... I’m, you know, running, I want to do something that’s good. It’s not an easy thing to do. I had a nice life until I did this, you know.Wow. Is this ever stream-of-consciousness! He wants us to come inside his psyche, feel how it feels to him. It's kind of exciting, transgressive...
This is a very difficult thing to do. In fact I’ve always heard that if you’re a very successful person you can’t run for office. And I can understand that. You’ll do a hundred deals, and you’ll do one bad one or two bad ones — that’s all they read about are the bad ones. They don’t read about the one hundred and fifty great ones that you had. And even some of the ones they write that are good, they make them sound bad.This isn't a problem of libel. This is a problem of balance. Professional journalism should be balanced, but news tends to be about the things that go wrong, even when the newspapers are neutral. But there's no requirement that a newspaper be politically neutral. It can concentrate on the misdoings of the characters it opposes politically. There's no legal remedy for that in America.
You know, so I’ve always heard that. I’ve heard that if you’re successful – very successful – you just can’t run for—Finally, Ryan interrupts:
RYAN: But how would you fix that? You’ve said that you would open up the libel laws.I love the way he starts to answer the question then throws in one of his idiosyncratic segues — "I mean I must tell you" — and clicks back into entertainment mode.
TRUMP: What I would do, what I would do is I’d – well right now the libel laws, I mean I must tell you....
... that the Hulk Hogan thing was a tremendous shock to me because – not only the amount and the fact that he had the victory — because for the most part I think libel laws almost don’t exist in this country, you know, based on, based on everything I’ve seen and watched and everything else....You know, based on, based on everything I’ve seen and watched and everything else.... Next time someone asks you how you know something, try that line. It sounds like the way I talked when I was a teenager and my father engaged me in discussions about politics. Let's just say he had a lot of follow up questions that I thought were unfair and exasperating.
... and I just think that if a paper writes something wrong — media, when I say paper I’m talking about media. I think that they can do a retraction if they’re wrong. They should at least try to get it right.Okay, that's very sensible. Working things out without using the legal system. And that's limited to when the media are actually wrong.
And if they don’t do a retraction, they should, they should you know have a form of a trial.If "wrong" means factually wrong, there's nothing bad about that statement. (It's another matter if by "wrong," he means not balancing the one bad thing he did with the 100 good things he's done.)
I don’t want to impede free press, by the way. The last thing I would want to do is that. But I mean I can only speak for – I probably get more – do I, I mean, you would know, do I get more publicity than any human being on the earth? Okay? I mean, [Editor’s note: Trump points at Ruth Marcus] she kills me, this one – that’s okay, nice woman.What was Ruth Marcus doing? Calling her out —for what? making a face at his chaotic evasions of Ryan's question? — feels like one of a huge set of little strategies for getting control of the conversation. I'm sure I'd be making a face listening for an answer and trying to tolerate overstated generalities ("I don’t want to impede free press"), reappearances of filler phrases that have begun to feel like some kind of joke ("by the way"), superlatives about himself ("I get more publicity than any human being"), and hokey verbosity ("on the earth" (Why not lay it on thicker, Lou Gehrig-style and say "on the face of the earth"?)).
RYAN: Would you expand, for example, prior restraints against publications?All right then, good.
I would just say this. All I want is fairness. So unfair.Well, that's just criticism. You criticize back. More speech. That's the law's answer.
I have stories and you have no recourse, you have no recourse whatsoever because the laws are really impotent.No, the laws are potent. They're just potent on the side of free speech. What part of that would you change?
MARCUS: So in a better world would you be able to sue me?Okay, then, back to the private resolution of the matter. But I suppose he means he wants to have the potential to bring the lawsuit because it put pressure behind his demand for a correction.
TRUMP: In a better world — no — in a better world I would be able to get a retraction or a correction. Not even a retraction, a correction.
RYAN: Well, now, you’ve been a plaintiff in libel suits so you know a little bit of the elements …Ugh. Ryan asked about the elements a plaintiff must prove in a libel case. He's blabbing about the judges, dissing New Jersey. Again, he's defusing the tension, going off in all directions. He's not a straight talker. His seeming bluntness may make it harder to see how frustratingly evasive he is. Imagine having a President like this. I know, they all evade, they all try to control the conversation. But he's got a strange new way of befuddling us. Our defenses are weak.
TRUMP: I had one basic big libel suit, it was a very bad system, it was New Jersey. I had a great judge, the first one, and I was going to win it. And then I had another good judge, the second one, and then they kept switching judges. And the third one was a bad judge. That’s what happened. But, uh…
RYAN: But there’s standards like malice is required. Would you weaken that? Would you require less than malice for news organizations?That's the key statement, what I've put in bold. It's crazily vague. The "malice" a public figure must show in a libel case is that the defendant either knew or had a "reckless disregard" for whether the statement was false. What "little bit" away from that would Trump get? The right follow up question is: Do you mean you'd replace "reckless disregard" with a negligence standard? But there's no interruption here. Trump is allowed to ramble on:
TRUMP: I would make it so that when someone writes incorrectly, yeah, I think I would get a little bit away from malice without having to get too totally away.
Look, I think many of the stories about me are written badly. I don’t know if it’s malice because the people don’t know me.I suspect he's using "malice" not in the legal sense, but in the layperson's sense of whether there's ill will or personal antagonism. But no one stops him and catches him on this seeming ignorance. How could he not know the legal standard when he's had lawsuits and he's making an issue of them? Maybe he's reaching out to ignorant people — he loves the poorly educated — trying to bond with them.
When Charles writes about me or when Ruth writes about me, you know, we’ve never really met. And I get these stories and they’re so angry and I actually say, I actually say, “How could they write?” – and many stories I must tell you, many stories are written that with a brief phone call could be corrected before they’re written. Nobody calls me.Some of that sounds as though he's complaining about how mean they are, as if that's what "malice" means, and some of that seems to go back to what might be his main idea, which stands apart from the legal system, that good journalists interact fairly with the person they're writing about.
STEPHEN STROMBERG, EDITORIAL WRITER: How are you defining “incorrect?” It seems like you’re defining it as fairness or your view of fairness rather than accuracy.Good question. That's pinning him down in a way that I've been talking about.
TRUMP: Fairness, fairness is, you know, part of the word.Is that mistranscribed? "Part of the word"? Maybe he stopped in the middle of saying something. Trump does say "fairness" a lot. I wonder what he thinks of the old "Fairness Doctrine," which imposed some balance requirements on broadcasters (but not newspapers).
But you know, I’ve had stories that are written that are absolutely incorrect. I’ll tell you now and the word “intent”, as you know, is an important word, as you know, in libel.No, I don't know. It sounds as though he's stuck on the wrong idea of what "malice" means. Who wants trials about whether some reporter hates a politician?
I’ll give you an example.The example is very long, describing something we already know about. Keep an eye out for what's "absolutely incorrect" and what has something to do with "intent," and don't forget that the question was whether he's talking about fairness or factual mistakes:
Some of the media, not all of it, but some of it, is very, very strong on – you know I get these massive crowds of people, and we’ll get protesters. And these protesters are honestly, they’re very bad people. In many cases, they’re professionals. Highly trained professionals. And I will rent an arena for 20,000 seats and they will come in – because there’s really no way – how you going to be able to tell – somebody said “oh you shouldn’t let ‘em in” – how you gonna know, you know? They walk in. [Inaudible] So we had an incident this weekend, which was amazing in Tucson, Arizona where a man, a protestor, wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit, another one dragging an American flag, was walking out of the arena, and an African American man who was a supporter was sitting there listening to the speech and we had to stop because they were so loud – they’re so loud, these people, I don’t know what they do, they’re trained voices or something.Probably opera singers.
And they’re walking up and you saw it, because it was all over television, and the African American man became incensed I think the guy said something to him like you know what, like “screw you,” okay? Or worse. I think, because he looked over to him and said something to him and the guy just had it. Now, they were together, these two. The one wearing a Ku Klux Klan, the other dragging a flag or something, but the African American man, who I think was an Air Force person, I just read he had a pretty stellar life so far. And he just became incensed. So when I saw the television yesterday early in the morning I saw the Ku Klux Klan, I saw exactly what happened. By the time it got on to the national shows that was for the most part taken out. They just had this African American smacking, you know, fighting. And it didn’t make sense, you know, why, why. But if you saw it in the morning it made a lot more sense. We don’t condone violence at all but it’s very, very unfair reporting and we, you know…So I guess the example means that the media chose the context and, without making factual mistakes, showed the part of the facts that fit their point of view. In the example, the point of view is that Trump supporters are inclined to violence. That's what Trump presented as "absolutely incorrect" — video, edited to take out the context that would explain an action that (obviously) really happened.
FRED HIATT, WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Sorry, when you say we don’t condone violence —Hiatt is changing the subject. Trump put distracting material in his long ramble, and maybe Hiatt lost the thread or maybe he was ready to move on. It is a favorite topic — Trump incites violence — and Trump gave him the opening. For Trump, it's an opportunity to get out of a jam — bullshitting around the First Amendment — and I'm willing to believe Trump threw out bait deliberately to get somebody to do exactly what Hiatt did.
TRUMP: I say that.Now, we've moved on to a completely different incident.
HIATT: You say that. But you’ve also said, “In the good old days, he would have been ripped out of his seat so fast, you wouldn’t believe it.” Isn’t that condoning violence?
TRUMP: No, because what I am referring to is, we’ve had some very bad people come in. We had one guy — and I said it — he had the voice — and this was what I was referring to — and I said, “Boy, I’d like to smash him.” You know, I said that. I’d like to punch him. This guy was unbelievably loud. He had a voice like Pavarotti.Ha ha. The hint that made me think "opera singer" paid off. That really is very entertaining.
I said if I was his manager I would have made a lot of money for him, because he had the best voice. I mean, the guy was unbelievable, how loud he was. And he was a swinger. He was hitting people. He was punching and swinging and screaming — you couldn’t make — so you have to stop. You know, there is also something about the First Amendment...Whoa! The First Amendment came back. We'd almost forgotten it. Here, he's making the concession that the protesters have some First Amendment rights. This isn't about libel. Will we ever get back to libel?
...but you had to stop. And, so, this one man was very violent and very loud. And when he was being taken out, he walked out like this, with his finger way up, like, “screw everybody.” And that’s when I made that statement. He was absolutely out — I mean, he hit people and he screamed and then he was walking out and he’s giving everybody the finger. And they don’t talk about that. See, they don’t talk about that. They say, “Donald, wait a second, Donald, don’t” —This goes on for quite a while, so let's skip forward, because, I see, they do eventually get back to libel:
HIATT: But your answer is you condone violence when the guy is really egregious and terrible?
TRUMP: No, I condone strong law and order. I’ll tell you what they —
HIATT: Rip him out of his seat, punch him in the face, isn’t that violent?
TRUMP: Well he punched other people.
HIATT: No, I understand that.
TRUMP: Fred, he punched other people. He was punching people. He was — one guy was, you know, I’d like to say —
HIATT: But just – given the Supreme Court rulings on libel — Sullivan v. New York Times — how would you change the law?Just loosen them up?!! Give the law a few drinks. Tell a few jokes. Maybe a shoulder rub.
TRUMP: I would just loosen them up.
RUTH MARCUS: What does that mean?Ridiculous. Bring the lawyers in. He's done talking about the part he wants to talk about. Get the lawyers on this.
TRUMP: I’d have to get my lawyers in to tell you, but I would loosen them up. I would loosen them up.
If The Washington Post writes badly about me – and they do, they don’t write good – I mean, I don’t think I get – I read some of the stories coming up here, and I said to my staff, I said, “Why are we even wasting our time? The hatred is so enormous.” I don’t know why. I mean, I do a good job. I have thousands of employees. I work hard.He brought up law, but he's not prepared or even interested in talking about law. And he falls back into repetitious whining. He doesn't like being criticized. He doesn't like when they make him look bad and don't show all the goods things he's done.
I’m not looking for bad for our country. I’m a very rational person, I’m a very sane person. I’m not looking for bad. But I read articles by you, and others. And, you know, we’ve never – we don’t know each other, and the level of hatred is so incredible, I actually said, “Why am I – why am I doing this? Why am I even here?” And I don’t expect anything to happen–This is sounding like a late stage in a marital argument: Why am I doing this? Why am I even here?
It's a late stage of an overlong blog post. Why am I doing this? Why am I even here?
It's so inappropriately emotional. Free speech law is serious and important, and here's a man whose only way to talk about it is to plead with us to care about his feelings. It's not about your feelings. You're running for President. You need to get some objectivity and some respect for the law and for what government is.
RYAN: Would that be the standard then? If there is an article that you feel has hatred, or is bad, would that be the basis for libel?Key words: "you feel." Obviously, he'd be a fool to accept that, and he has the sense not to:
TRUMP: No, if it’s wrong. If it’s wrong.If the answer to Ryan's question were "yes," then Trump would be saying he wants New York Times v. Sullivan — the bulwark of freedom of speech — overruled. But Trump doesn't give a yes-or-no answer. He goes back to his personal emotional angst (even though he did say "no" to the question whether it's about his feelings):
RYAN: Wrong whether there’s malice or not?
TRUMP: I mean, The Washington Post never calls me. I never had a call, “Why – why did you do this?” or “Why did you do that?” It’s just, you know, like I’m this horrible human being.Late stage marital argument: It’s just, you know, like I’m this horrible human being.
And I’m not. You know, the one thing we have in common I think we all love the country. Now, maybe we come at it from different sides, but nobody ever calls me. I mean, Bob Costa calls about a political story – he called because we’re meeting senators in a little while and congressmen, supporters – but nobody ever calls.I had to look up who Bob Costa is. I was thinking Bob Costas. Another distraction. (Poor Bob Costa! Is Bob Costa "nobody"?)
RYAN: The reason I keep asking this is because you’ve said three times you’ve said we are going to open up the libel laws and when we ask you what you mean you say hatred, or bad–This is the last attempt to pry a straight answer out of him. And here's the last nonanswer:
TRUMP: I want to make it more fair from the side where I am, because things are said that are libelous, things are said about me that are so egregious and so wrong, and right now according to the libel laws I can do almost nothing about it because I’m a well-known person you know, etc., etc.Yeah, that's New York Times v. Sullivan, blocking you from suing because you're a public figure — indeed, you're the most public figure on the face of the earth — unless you can show that the publisher knew it was false or showed a reckless disregard for whether it was false. What is it about that law do you want to "loosen up" and get "a little bit away from"?
Trump won't say, he can't say, perhaps because he realizes he actually shouldn't have said he wanted to change the law, but he never goes back once he's said something. Or maybe it's because he's a man who has long had lots of lawyers jumping to his service, and the way that's always worked is: He figures out where he wants to go, and then the lawyers get on the job and figure out how to get there.
Why would you ask him how to get anywhere? He's the source of the desire to get there.