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Donald Trump has preserved his victory on appeal over a political strategist who alleges being defamed on Twitter.
The plaintiff in the case was Cheryl Jacobus, who sued over comments made in the midst of a heated Republican primary. She alleged in her complaint that the Trump campaign tried to recruit her in May 2015, even attempting to entice her with the prospect of a post-campaign job at Fox News. She never joined his presidential campaign, and sometime later, after she appeared on CNN to discuss Trump’s decision to skip a primary debate, Trump directed his Twitter venom toward her.
One Trump tweet stated Jacobus “begged us for a job. We said no and she went hostile.” A second Trump tweet stated, “Turned her down twice and she went hostile. Major loser, zero credibility.”
In January, just days before Trump took office, he successfully dismissed the lawsuit.
New York Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe interpreted the “begged” tweet as “a loose, figurative, and hyperbolic reference to plaintiff’s state of mind and is therefore, not susceptible of objective verification,” further commenting, “although the intemperate tweets are clearly intended to belittle and demean plaintiff, any reasonable reading of them makes it ‘impossible to conclude that [what defendants said or implied]…could subject…[plaintiff] to contempt or aversion, induce any unsavory opinion of [her] or reflect adversely upon [her] work,’ or otherwise damage her reputation as a partisan political consultant and commentator.”
Jacobus took the decision to New York’s appellate division.
“The philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously wrote that ‘[t]he medium is the message,'” stated Jacobus’ appellate brief. “The American law of defamation, however, does not follow McLuhan’s dictum. In libel law, it is the message, not the medium, that matters.”
Her lawyer added, “The lower court’s analysis, if allowed to stand uncorrected by this Court, comes dangerously close to declaring Twitter a ‘defamation free-fire zone.'”
Today, the judges at the appellate division affirm the dismissal in a short order that seems unconcerned with the professed consequences.
“Whether alleged statements are susceptible of a defamatory meaning imputed to them is, in the first instance, a question of law for the courts to decide,” states the decision. “The alleged defamatory statements are too vague, subjective, and lacking in precise meaning (i.e., unable to be proven true or false) to be actionable. The immediate context in which the statements were made would signal to the reasonable reader or listener that they were opinion and not fact.”
Trump, of course, is still fighting on the defamation front. Specifically, he’s battling ex-Apprentice candidate Summer Zervos in a defamation fight for denying he sexually assaulted her. A decision in that case is pending, but Trump’s attorneys have used the Jacobus decision to support the proposition that loose rhetoric in the heat of a political campaign can’t form the basis of a defamation complaint.
Today’s decision also comes as Trump is back in the news over a mean tweet (although that could be said of almost any day). This morning, Trump wrote that New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand “would do anything for” campaign donations. Gillibrand blasted the comment as a “sexist smear.”
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