Threats of a lawsuit are always a little dubious. It is easy to make threats. Filing an actual lawsuit requires much more work. Donald Trump fired off such a threat the day after the New York Times published a piece describing his sexual assault of two women. Mr. Trump’s lawyer threatened to sue the Times for libel. The in-house counsel for the Times quickly fired back with his own letter. But, his lawyer contained actual legal reasoning. Libel, explained the Times‘ lawyer, indicates someone’s reputation has been harmed. The essence of libel is protection of one’s reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his nonconsensual touching of women. Mr. Trump let a radio DJ refer to his daughter as a “piece of ass.” He said publicly that he would walk in on beauty pageant contestants in a state of undress. Several other women, apart form the Times article, have come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s sexual shenanigans. The in-house counsel concluded, this reputation was created by Donald Trump himself through his words and actions. Nothing in the Times article had any effect on the reputation he created.

Exactly. Libel only applies if the reputation has been harmed. If a person proclaims he has robbed stores, then a newspaper article that describes him as a robber does not harm his reputation. It is no wonder that a few lawyers on my Facebook page described the Times response as drafted by a “real” lawyer. Threats to sue only work if they convey some minimal legal ability to follow through. See ABA Bar Journal report.