Follow up Friday: Michelle, Lou, and a libel lesson

    First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

    First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

    We’ve come a long way since the ’60s, when a first lady’s big crusade was to “beautify” our highways. Yesterday in New Hampshire, Michnelle Obama delivered one of the best speeches of the ’16 campaign, shredding Donald Trump’s toxic mysogyny with ironclad reasoning and emotional resonance. Women are going to take The Donald down in this election, and who better to craft the cri de coeur than a woman whose approval rating is 64 percent?

    Since I’m scrambling to pack for a big trip (more on that later), I’ll cede these opening paragraphs to someone who deserves them. That would be Michelle Obama.

    We’ve come a long way since the ’60s, when a first lady’s big crusade was to “beautify” our highways. Yesterday in New Hampshire, she delivered one of the best speeches of the ’16 campaign, shredding Donald Trump’s toxic mysogyny with ironclad reasoning and emotional resonance. Women are going to take The Donald down in this election, and who better to craft the cri de coeur than a woman whose approval rating is 64 percent?

    In case you hadn’t heard this:

    A candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women …. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior, and actually bragging about kissing and groping women. Using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV. To make matters worse, it now seems clear this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life.

    I have to tell you that I listened to all this and I feel it so personally. I’m sure that many of you do too, particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman. It is cruel. It is frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts.

    It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin ….

    This is disgraceful. It is intolerable, and it doesn’t matter what party you belong to. Democrat, Republican, Independent — no woman deserves to be treated this way. No one deserves this kind of abuse.

    I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong. We simply cannot endure this or expose our children to this for any longer, not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say, “Enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.”

    But we should also highlight a speech passage that’s gotten less attention. For reasons I’ll soon explain:

    We are drowning in [the latest revelations]. And all of us are doing what women have always done. We’re trying to keep our heads above water. Just trying to get through it. Trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us. Maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us, as women, look weak. Maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet, because we’ve seen that people often won’t take our word over his.

    Staying quiet ….That’s what Trump’s growing list of accusers did for so many years. They feared that others wouldn’t believe them, and that if they were not believed, they risked being victimized again. Which is precisely what happened yesterday, when Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs tweeted, to his 792,000 followers, the home address and phone number of Jessica Leeds. Leeds is the woman who said this week that Trump sexually assaulted her when they were seatmate-strangers on a plane.

    And yet men still have the gall to ask, “Why do women stay quiet? Why didn’t these women come forward before?”

    Trump has been threatening to sue The New York Times (he didn’t like the story about Leeds), and on Wednesday one of his lawyers told the paper that the article “constitutes libel per se.” I’m not a lawyer, but as someone who has been writing about libel law since the late ’70s, I know that the Trump legal team would be laughed out of court. Apparently, Trump’s knowledge of libel law is on a par with his smarts about the nuclear triad.

    According to a landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling, a public figure can’t win a libel case unless he or she can prove that reporters maliciously and knowingly printed false information. Good luck with that. The court ruled that the debate about public figures and public issues “should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks of government and public officials.”

    But David McGraw, the Times’ lawyer who responded in a letter yesterday, explained the law far better than I can. In fact, he delivered one of the year’s best beatdowns. This passage is best enjoyed with a bowl of popcorn:

    The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a ‘piece of ass.’ Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

    Translation: You want to sue us? Bring it on, tough guy.

    Meanwhile, yesterday, the tough guy was critiqued this way:

    “At some point, you have to look in the mirror and recognize that you cannot possibly justify support for Trump to your children — especially your daughters.”

    And this way:

    “He is a dangerous demagogue completely unsuited to the responsibilities of a United States president. Even for loyalists, there is a line beyond which the obvious moral failings of a candidate are impossible to disregard. That line has clearly been breached.”

    The first quote belongs to David Humphreys, a business executive and Republican loyalist who, during the past four years, has donated $2.5 million to the GOP. The second quote belongs to Bruce Kovner, a business investor and Republican loyalist who, during the same period, has donated $2.7 million to the GOP. Their robust discontent is further vivid evidence of a party enmeshed in civil war.

    Perhaps Trump will try to sue them, too.

    Congratulations to Bob on his Nobel Prize for Literature. He inadvertently nailed the ’16 campaign 17 years ago when he wrote, “People are crazy and times are strange.”

    I mentioned earlier that I’m taking a trip. I’ll be in Europe all next week — speaking about the election to audiences in London (Tuesday), Paris (Wednesday), and Brussels (Thursday) — so the columns may well be posted at odd hours. But hopefully with sufficient due diligence!

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Correction: A previous version of this post indicated that Bob Dylan wrote his song “Things Have Changed” 12 years ago. The song was actually published in 1999.

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