A Harvard law professor is suing The New York Times, accusing the paper of publishing “false and defamatory” information and employing “clickbait” in an article about him.
Lawrence Lessig, the legal scholar and political activist, filed his lawsuit
in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Monday.
“Defendants’ actions here are part of a growing journalistic culture of clickbaiting: the use of a shocking headline and/or lede to entice readers to click on a particular article, irrespective of the truth of the headline,” he wrote in the lawsuit. “Defendants are fully aware that many, if not most, readers never read past the clickbait and that their takeaway concerning the target of the headline is limited to what they read in the headline.”
He contends that the Times published false information about him in the headline and lede of an article
about an essay he had written regarding Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to MIT.
The headline on the story reads, “A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret,” and the first line of the story is “it is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying.”
The story, which includes an interview with Lessig, references an essay he wrote arguing that institutions like MIT are right to keep certain donations private.
But he argues that he was not making the case for taking money from people like Epstein, a convicted sex offender who was facing trial for sex trafficking when he was found dead in his jail cell last year. Lessig says that his point was that if an institution is going to take money from criminals or unsavory figures, then the donor should remain anonymous.
“My essay said—repeatedly—that such soliciting was a ‘mistake,’ ” Lessig wrote in a blog post
announcing the lawsuit on Monday. “And more importantly, it was a mistake because of the kind of harm it would trigger in both victims and women generally.”
Lessig said in the lawsuit that he asked the Times to change the headline and lede of the story but the paper refused.
A spokesperson for the Times told The Hill that the paper will “defend against the claim vigorously.”
“Senior editors reviewed the story after Professor Lessig complained and were satisfied that the story accurately reflected his statements,” said the spokesperson in a statement. “We plan to defend against the claim vigorously.”
— Joe Concha contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:45 p.m.