The Associated Press is reporting that a Maryland state court has sided with First Lady Melania Trump in denying a motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against blogger Webster Tarpley.
The crux of the complaint is that Mr. Tarpley defamed Ms. Trump by relaying or repeating rumors that she had engaged in prostitution. No one appears to be asserting there is any truth to such a claim. And a false statement that someone has been a prostitute is, indeed, quintessential defamation.
The issue for the defense seems to be whether this was a statement of purported fact – that is, was the blogger saying Ms. Trump was a prostitute, or was he just saying that other people were saying that.
The AP quotes the defendant’s lawyer as saying, “He did not say that Melania Trump was a high-class escort. What he said was there are rumors about that.”
But plaintiff’s counsel claims the blog went beyond merely saying there were rumors, pointing to this blogged sentence: “It is also widely known that Melania was not a working model but rather a high end escort.”
Repeating defamation can, itself, be defamation. On the other hand, accurately reporting allegations can be exempted from liability under certain circumstances. It’s one of defamation law’s trickiest areas.
The complaint appears to be published here: [PDF]. Interestingly, it says that Ms. Trump demanded and got an apology from the blogger, and that the offending blog post was taken down.
Often an apology soothes tempers enough that a lawsuit never materializes. But not so here. The lawsuit followed within days.
This kind of libel litigation is common with some rich entertainment and sports celebrities. Money for lawyers plus a thin skin and a hot temper equals lawsuit city.
But public figures from the national political sphere – even those with ready cash for lawyer’s fees – have generally shown restraint with defamation claims, shrugging off baseless slurs as unworthy of a fight. The Trump family, however, represents a hybrid of entertainment and political fame, and if this lawsuit is any indication, the Trumps may be hewing more to Hollywood tradition than Beltway tradition when it come to using the courts to avenge slights.