The Libel Laws (1888)
Robert Green Ingersoll
Question. Have you any suggestions to make in regard to remodeling the libel laws?
Answer. I believe that every article appearing in a paper should be signed by the writer. If it is libelous, then the writer and the publisher should both be held responsible in damages. The law on this subject, if changed, should throw greater safeguards around the reputation of the citizen. It does not seem to me that the papers have any right to complain. Probably a good many suits are brought that should not be instituted, but just think of the suits that are not brought.
Personally I have no complaint to make, as it would be very hard to find anything in any paper against me, but it has never occurred to me that the press needed any greater liberty than it now enjoys.
It might be a good thing for a paper to publish each week, a list of mistakes, if this could be done without making that edition too large. But certainly when a false and scandalous charge has been made by mistake or as the result of imposition, great pains should be taken to give the retraction at once and in a way to attract attention.
I suppose the papers are liable to be imposed upon — liable to print thousands of articles to which the attention of the editor or proprietor was not called. Still, that is not the fault of the man whose character is attacked. On the whole I think the papers have the advantage of the average citizen as the law now is.
If all articles had to be signed by the writer, I am satisfied the writer would be more careful and less liable to write anything of a libelous nature. I am willing to admit that I have given but little attention to the subject, probably for the reason that I have never been a sufferer.
It would hardly do to hold only the writer responsible. Suppose a man writes a libelous article, leaves the country, and then the article is published; is there no remedy? A suit for libel is not much of a remedy, I admit, but it is some. It is like the bayonet in war. Very few are injured by bayonets, but a good many are afraid that they may be.
The Herald, Now York, October 1888
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