The American Bar Association earlier this week told the Erik Wemple Blog that it had sought a correction from the New York Times after it reported that the association “refused” to publish a thorough report by First Amendment lawyer Susan Seager on Donald Trump’s history of filing libel suits and losing them.
“We did not refuse to publish it,” ABA spokeswoman Carol Stevens told the Erik Wemple Blog. Instead, the association merely made some “suggested” edits to calm some of the piece’s more “inflammatory” moments, said Stevens. Protestations notwithstanding, the story stuck. “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah even not-joked about it: “Take a second to absorb this: A group of lawyers won’t publish a report on how Trump often sues because they’re afraid he might sue them. You do realize I cannot make a joke about that, because that would be the joke that I would make.”
Well, whatever: The ABA is now going to run the piece in its “Communications Lawyer” publication, where it was headed before this imbroglio materialized. A statement addresses this issue:
The policy of the American Bar Association gives its entities the right to publish their newsletters without Association permission. In accordance with that policy, next week the ABA Forum on Communications Law will publish a newsletter article on presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and his frequent use of speech-related lawsuits. In the past week, there has been inaccurate media coverage of this matter.
After the article was first submitted for publication, ABA staff suggested some edits to the article that were in keeping with the ABA’s commitment to non-partisanship. The author did not discuss the editing suggestions with ABA staff and instead withdrew her article for publication.
To be clear, the ABA did not refuse to publish the article.
The author resubmitted the article for publication with the Association and it has been accepted by the Forum on Communications Law. The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the American Bar Association.
Stevens tells this blog, “We made no edits to it.”
If you can’t wait to see the piece in the ABA publication, it has already run online here. Stevens, however, says Seager has added another example to the analysis. The language in the statement — “do not reflect the views of the American Bar Association” — suggests that the organization wants to publish this thing while keeping its distance from it. Stevens counters that suggestion, noting that the ABA is “strictly nonpartisan.”
Asked about this turn of events, Seager tells the Erik Wemple Blog that she approached the association after it had denied killing the story — an explanation that she says is “not the truth.” “So I tweeted a challenge to the ABA to publish my uncensored article, and my editors made the same request to the ABA. Much to my surprise, the ABA agreed to publish my article as I had written it and dropped their demand to censor it,” writes Seager via email.
More Seager: “I’m glad the ABA decided it was it wrong to censor my article, even if they don’t have the courage to admit their mistake. The ABA should not be worried about being sued by Trump. I certainly am not. My article describing Donald J. Trump as a ‘libel bully’ and ‘libel loser’ is fully protected by the First Amendment because it is true and the Supreme Court has said we can use name-calling to criticize public figures.”
Updated to add comments from Seager.