Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ezra Klein Doesn't Understand Libel Law

Ezra Klein has a penchant for being spectacularly ignorant and wrong, but is nevertheless unafraid to opine on such subjects, viz. healthcare. A couple days ago I encountered a typing of his which purported to make the case that Peter Thiel's funding of lawsuits against Gawker is a bad thing, because, money:
Billionaires might have the resources to fund endless lawsuits that bury their media enemies beneath legal fees, but that doesn't mean they should use that freedom. There's plenty that billionaires can do that they shouldn't, and the more frequently and gleefully they cross that line, the likelier they are to eventually lose the ability to cross it.
But of course, this would not be possible if Gawker didn't have journalistic standards that would make a whore blush. Klein makes the reasonable point that at one time, we did not allow third parties to finance lawsuits — that practice is known as champerty, and was forbidden under the old English common-law regime. But as even Klein admits, citing Walter Olson (all emboldening mine):
...[T]he law used to bar unrelated third parties from paying someone else to engage in litigation and financing a lawsuit in exchange for a share of the damages.

But those laws have fallen out of favor over the past 50 years, in part because lawyers began to see easy access to the courts as being in the public interest. This was driven in part by the rise of public interest litigation — think, for example, of an environmental group finding a third-party plaintiff to sue a company to stop an environmentally sensitive development project.
 So live by the sword, die by the sword, as it were. But so far, at least, all of Klein's perceived threats to Gawker are entirely illusory, or caused by their own sleazebag tendencies. I have a hard time crying for them.

Update 2016-05-30: Comes an excellent summary of why this is a nothingburger, or at least, why the broad public treats it so, by Cathy Young, with many examples of why Gawker is ragingly hypocritical here.

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