Media law expert: Trump tweets 'hateful' but 'probably not libel'
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A media law expert says that while President Trump’s tweets attacking MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski are “mean” and "hateful," they’re unlikely to be considered libelous.

Trump caused an uproar on Thursday morning when he reignited a longstanding feud with “Morning Joe” co-hosts Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough in a pair of insult-heavy tweets.

The Twitter messages drew widespread condemnation from both sides of the aisle. But Clay Calvert, a professor in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, tells ITK that much of Trump's tweets are considered protected speech.

“The ‘I.Q.,’ ‘crazy’ one, that’s totally protected opinion. That’s just name calling,” Calvert said. “That’s not a factual assertion, whatsoever.”


“Name calling is safeguarded from a libel suit because it’s not factual assertion,” Calvert added.

The remarks, Calvert maintained, are “far below what we should expect from a president. It’s mean, hateful, spiteful — but it’s probably not libel.”

But Calvert says there’s a slight chance Brzezinski could have a case if she honed in on Trump’s assertion that she and Scarborough “insisted on joining” him at Mar-a-Lago, the commander in chief's private Florida estate.

“Is there some kind of suggestion that she wants to be close to Trump, or something more to that suggestion?” Calvert asked.

“There is something called defamation by implication: if you say ‘a,’ and then you say ‘b,’ and then a reasonable reader would take away ‘c,’ ” he added.

“What would a reasonable reader of these tweets understand them to mean?” Calvert said. “The implication is that a reasonable reader might take away is that [Brzezinski] might want to be cozy with [Trump].”

Such a case would likely be “tough to prove” for Brzezinski, he continued.

Calvert, the author of 2000's "Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy, and Peering in Modern Culture," said that Brzezinski could potentially sue for defamation for the “facelift” remark, but questioned what she could claim as damages from that.

“That’s just more mean than it is libel,” he said.

Even if the remark was completely untrue, Calvert added, Trump might not have defamed Brzezinski. 

"I don't believe it's defamatory to falsely state a woman has had a facelift when she did not. A facelift isn't like some kind of loathsome disease or damning activity, especially for people in a profession where looks do matter to some viewers," he said.