Getting the media to talk about lawsuit abuse is tough. It’s nuanced. There is a lot of other stuff going on in the world. And not every case can be neatly summarized in click-bait worthy manner like the $20 million lawsuit against KFC. But this year, litigation that some would call frivolous or abusive has been making headlines. Why is this issue suddenly a hot topic? Our guess is that it has something to do with who is being sued. This year media companies have litigated and been threatened with more high profile lawsuits than at any time in recent memory.
It is not that the press is uncomfortable with the idea of going to court. Media companies are no strangers to litigation. In fact, it is thanks to the willingness of the media to take issues to court that our First Amendment rights remain robust, and government transparency is even a thing.
What is different this year, is that instead doing the suing, and just scoffing at meritless suits filed against others, media companies are being forced to defend themselves.
Earlier this year, the popular/reviled online media company Gawker was put out of business after it was sued for showing the world Hulk Hogan’s sex tape. The case went to trial and a jury awarded Hogan $140 million. This had to give every media company out there pause.
In some quarters, litigation against the media is even being cheered. When Donald Trump says he’s going to sue the New York Times for running stories about his finances and sexual exploits, and open up the libel laws, a large chunk of America applauds.
Lawsuits like the one against Gawker, and the ones threatened by Trump, will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the media. This is the same impact that aggressive litigation has had on other industries for years.
It is time for all of us to take a cue from the media and start taking a closer look at our legal system. We must ensure that it continues to right wrongs, but surely it should be able to do so without threatening our basic liberties and stalling our economic growth.