NLJ Publishes Mark MacDougall, Karen Williams Op-Ed on Defeating “Fake News”

“As Fake News Rises, Courts Can Be a Weapon,” an opinion piece by Akin Gump litigation partner Mark MacDougall and counsel Karen Williams, has been published by The National Law Journal.

Using as an exemplar a recent story of a North Carolina gunman who, armed with an assault rifle, walked into a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor where, he had read, child sex slaves were being held by Hillary Clinton, the authors describe the extent to which what is being termed “fake news” reached voters across the United States through social media and other outlets.

They also note that, previously, the ability to broadcast news on this scale had been limited due to the capital-intensive nature of the undertaking, whereas now “The internet allows anyone with a laptop computer to play investigative journalist and publisher. With a few key strokes, a detailed lie dressed up to look like journalism can go around the world.”

The authors write that calls for social media outlets such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to clamp down on “fake news” sites have resulted in some movement on that front. They note, however, “Another way to combat fake news is through the most independent institution in our society — the courts.”

While noting the primacy of the First Amendment protections and the legal doctrines applied to them by the U.S. Supreme Court, MacDougall—who is regarded a groundbreaker in the field of reputational recovery—and Williams write, “Nonetheless, the right of an individual harmed by fake news to bring a civil suit remains a live legal option. Doubters can look to the $3 million jury verdict returned last month against Rolling Stone and the journalist Sabrina Erdely in a federal court in Virginia.”

They conclude by writing, “Individuals and organizations need to have the courage to bring the manufacturers of fake news into the broad daylight of federal courtrooms…There is no better system for getting at the truth than the Rules of Evidence and the adversarial system of trial.

Federal courts may prove to be the best places to shine a light on those who traffic in lies marketed as journalism. They will ultimately help move us closer toward eliminating fake news from American life.”

To read the full op-ed, please click here.