Jen Gerson: Pols vs. Media
Suing the media is usually unwise. In these cases, it may also be fascinating
In recent weeks, we've witnessed two once-rare phenomena occur nearly simultaneously. Two politicians have threatened libel claims against media outlets, alleging that their reputations have been damaged by reporting based on statements by anonymous sources.
There are two very different outlets involved, and the claims are coming from politicians sitting at opposite ends of the ideological divide. This makes the comparison all the more interesting.
Of course, I'm talking about the libel suits filed by now-independent federal MP Han Dong against Global News, followed shortly thereafter by a claim from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith against the CBC.
The response to the news of these respective claims has been interesting. In the former case, Dong's willingness to take on reporter Sam Cooper, who has riled the Liberals over ongoing stories of Chinese foreign interference into our political process, was broadly cheered by left-leaning supporters. His libel suit has been treated, pre-emptively, as a sign of his innocence.
By comparison, Smith's case is being treated as merely tactical, even absurd. Yet it's not outside the realm of possibility that Dong will lose his case, and Smith will win hers. I place no bets. And anyone expressing too much confidence in any outcome is misguided. These cases are probably going to come down to deeply specific circumstances and the “sting” that the court attributes to the allegedly defamatory words and whether any of the defences to defamation apply. Ontario’s “anti-SLAPP” legislation may actually make it harder for Dong to win his case than Smith hers.
It wouldn't be shocking to see two totally different outcomes despite their superficial similarity.