On suing the Times

Lessig
4 min readJan 13, 2020

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Today I filed a defamation action — call it a “clickbait defamation” action—against the New York Times.

Here’s the skinny:

In September, I wrote an essay on Medium attacking the scapegoating of Joi Ito by many—including most prominently, Ronan Farrow and MIT—because of wrongs committed by Joi with the knowledge and approval of MIT. To its credit, shortly after the essay was published, MIT openly acknowledged that it had known and approved of Joi’s fundraising from the criminal Epstein. That would—or, in my view, should—have kept the attention of reformers on the institution as well as on the individuals within the institution.

Shortly after MIT acknowledged its complicity, the New York Times published a piece based on an interview conducted shortly after my Medium essay was published. This was the title and lede:

This title and lede are false. Yet I’ve found — in the months since this was published, facing the endless attacks I get in person and online—that the challenge is to focus anyone’s attention enough long to see just why they are plainly false. Offering a tweet-length proof that a perfectly tweetable headline is flatly false is not, it turns out, simple.

Here’s one passage from the relevant essay that might trigger the right mix of puzzled attention:

the point of the paragraph beginning “But what I — and Joi — missed” is to say that even if you take Type 3 and you take them anonymously, it is a mistake to take this particular type of Type 3 contribution — precisely because of the pain it would cause if it were eventually revealed. Maybe you can take the money of a tax fraud, again, if and only if anonymous. But the kind of pain triggered here means that that general rule should not apply here. Which again is why I said I believe it was a mistake to take this…

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