Prepare the complaint forthwith. Make it a libel case, full of frothy language about how its Oct. 30 investigative report maligns the good reputation and national standing of presidential candidate Herman Cain. Mention how Politico willfully and recklessly published falsehoods in pursuit of audience share and revenue for its publishing properties.
Make the complaint really long and complicated; concede that the plaintiff is an avowed public figure, then argue that even journalism on a public figure has its limits under the law; supply copious case law; point out that the Politico story didn’t feature interviews with the women who accused Cain of sexual harassment; cite critics like Jack Shafer and Stephen Engelberg; document the damage that the media frenzy has done to the campaign, if you can find any examples.
The complaint, of course, will be “baseless,” a term with which your campaign has some recent familiarity. In the five days since the story hit the Internet, after all, the facts presented within its four corners have remained intact. To win a libel case as a public figure, you have to prove that the outlet published falsehoods and that it did so with actual malice or reckless disregard of the facts. You guys won’t even get past the first part of that test.
But here’s why you must follow through on the vague “legal options” threat you outlined to a Washington Post reporter: A good old civil complaint will break this info-logjam that has burdened the media and the National Restaurant Association all week long.
A suit will allow extensive discovery privileges to both parties to the case. That means that Politico could avail itself of court authority to bust loose all the documents that refuse to out themselves. The separation agreements, internal restaurant association memos on the disputes, and maybe even some killer e-mails — they’d all land in a court docket for public inspection.
These confidential documents are proving stubborn. Every major media outlet in the country has been hustling to get them, with marginal results. When news breaks on this story, it’s often based on anonymous sources that few appear to believe. Only a judicial proceeding can force all of this into the light of day.
Good thinking, Cain campaign. File that suit. I’ll even volunteer to run it down to the courthouse for you.