Professor Benjamin Zipursky, an expert on defamation, was quoted in an article for The American Lawyer on Lawrence Lessig’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times.
The backstory is this: On Sept. 14, the Times published a story with this headline: “A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret.” Mostly a Q&A, the lede reads: “It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying.”
Lessig described the Times’ headline and the lede as “sensationalized, false and defamatory ‘clickbait’” in his complaint, designed “to drive readers to their story and website.” He also claims that he raised his objections to the reporter during the fact-checking stage and that the reporter agreed that “the incorrect language of her draft article would be corrected.” And after the story was published, he made additional requests for corrections that the Times rebuffed.
Zipursky, however, thinks Lessig has a shot. “I don’t think the headline is false, but I think he has a powerful argument with the lede,” Zipursky says. “If you look at what he said in the Times interview and what he wrote online, it’s clear that his position was that it’s wrong and indefensible to take Epstein’s money. When [the Times]was fact-checking, he told them they got it wrong, but they didn’t correct it, which goes to establishing actual malice.”
Another factor is that Lessig himself was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, something he alludes to in his Medium essay and has talked openly about in the past. “The fact that he’s torn apart by this issue because of his experience might make a difference,” Zipursky adds.