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White House Has ‘Looked At’ Changing Libel Laws, Reince Priebus Says

Variety logo Variety 4/30/2017 Ted Johnson
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White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that the Trump administration has looked into changing libel laws, pointing to the frustration over stories that he says have “no basis in fact.” This update comes just one day after President Donald Trump decided to skip the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“I think it’s something that we’ve looked at and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story,” Priebus said in an interview with Jon Karl on ABC‘s “This Week” on Sunday.

During the campaign, Trump had said that he wanted to “open up” libel laws if elected, and has since bashed the media as a “disgrace.” On Saturday, he again attacked news organizations at his 100th day in office rally in Harrisburg, Pa.

Priebus said that “newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news.” He then pointed to “24-7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters” as part of the problem.

“I said this is something that is being looked at,” he continued. “But it’s something that as far as how it gets executed, where we go with it, that’s another issue. But I think this is a frustration of unnamed sources, of things that the FBI has told me personally is complete BS, written in a newspaper article, in my office, one-on-one, this here is not true.”

It would probably take a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court reinterpretation of precedent to “change” libel laws, as there is no federal statute. During his confirmation hearings, Trump’s recent Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch pointed to past decisions he has made that were in line with the precedent set in the landmark 1964 decision New York Times vs. Sullivan.

The reaction to the dinner from many attendees was positive, both for the biting monologue from Hasan Minhaj and for the focus on the First Amendment. The lack of Hollywood celebrities, in addition to Trump’s snub, actually gave the event at loftier tone.

Minhaj appeared early on Sunday morning at a Comcast-NBC News-MSNBC party at the Organization of American States, along with an entourage. He said that he had a “great time” at the dinner, while acknowledging that it was a tough gig.

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