October 17, 2016

At The New York Times, reporters aren’t the only ones who can write fast.

David McCraw, an attorney for the newspaper, drew praise on social media last week after his legal rebuttal to Donald Trump’s retraction request went viral. Among other things, the letter suggested Trump would not win a libel case against the The New York Times for its story on sexual assault because he had no reputation to protect when it came to his treatment of women.

Here’s an excerpt:

The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a “piece of ass.” Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

How long did it take him to come up with that retort? In a post for Times Insider, the Times’ behind-the-scenes blog, McCraw says about 45 minutes, give or take. Then he talked it over and fact-checked it with his colleagues for another half-hour. When they were done, he joked they should batten down the social media hatches:

In the first 90 minutes, I had 90 emails. Then the pace picked up. Hundreds of emails poured in. They came from Tanzania, the Northern Mariana Islands, England, Sri Lanka, Australia and from all over the United States. Someone asked to translate the letter into Spanish. Most of the emails were from strangers, many from lawyers, but also from a nurse and a doctor, retired people, the founder of a nonprofit, law school students, parents whose kids had seen the letter online at college, journalists from other news organizations.

Trump’s lawyers, McCraw notes, have not written back yet. He has, however, heard from his colleagues:

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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