A Harvard University law professor sued the New York Times for allegedly using clickbait headline and defamatory lede for a Jeffrey Epstein story. Lawrence Lessig had written an essay about his friend, Joichi Ito, accepting donations for M.I.T Media Lab from convicted sex offender Epstein and the law professor claimed Ito was made the scapegoat in the whole controversy.
The New York Times conducted an interview with Lessig soon after he published the essay. The newspaper published the interview with headling 'A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret'. Written by Nellie Bowles, the lede of the NYT article said that Lessig has been trying hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender.
Professor Lessig lashed out at the newspaper saying his article clearly does not defend soliciting donations from Epstein and wrote a point by point rebuttal after suing the NYT. “My essay said - repeatedly - that such soliciting was a ‘mistake’. And more importantly, it was a mistake because of the kind of harm it would trigger in both victims and women generally.” He asserted that the lede and headline were ‘flatly false’ since he never said that taking money from Epstein anonymously was ok.
The Harvard professor said that he had asked the US daily to correct the two “false and defamatory” statements knowing journalism is “hard and deadlines are short”. Lessig was astonished when NYT refused to change the lede and the headline and tried to justify it. A Times spokesperson reportedly said the senior editors reviewed the story and were satisfied that the story “accurately reflected” his statements.
Lessig said that the editors’ denial was a result of internet age journalism incentives where driving eyeballs is important to drive advertising revenue. “Flashy and fun is harmless. False and defamatory is not. I still can’t believe truth alone was not a sufficient incentive for the Times to correct its false statements,” wrote Lessig.