Should Members of Congress Respond to Bad Press with Threats of Lawsuits?


Obviously, no. And I’m sure that Josh Marshall feels the same way. Marshall speculates that Sen. Harry Reid’s hiring of a lawyer indicates that Reid might be planning to file a libel suit against John Solomon and his former employer, the Associated Press. I trust that he forgot to add that such a suit–or even the threat of one–would be an assault on the First Amendment and the public’s right to know.

Sen. Reid is a public figure, and that it’s unclear how exactly he has been harmed by the Associated Press story in question, so it would seem that a lawsuit would be problematic from the get go. Remember too that Reid had to amend his financial disclosure forms in response to the AP story (the Senate Ethics Committee is reportedly still reviewing the new filings). The AP continues to stand by the accuracy of the report; if it contains inaccuracies, Reid apparently has not pointed them out to the satisfaction of the AP.

None of that means that the AP story is absolutely perfect; we can be fairly certain that Reid–or, for that matter, Marshall–doesn’t like the story, and perhaps doesn’t care for the reporter either. (Full disclosure: I am a big fan of Solomon–I think the record shows he is as tough on Republicans as he is on Democrats, provoking similar reactions.) But I can’t imagine that Marshall thinks that an appropriate response is for a member to dip into his campaign cash to hire a lawyer with a “take-no-prisoners style and investigative prowess,” and then go after a reporter or a news organization. Other than libel lawyers, I can’t imagine anyone who would benefit from such a state of affairs.