Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) held a "roundtable" in Hialeah Gardens, in which he proposed new laws should be introduced making it easier to sue media companies for what they publish, reported the Miami Herald on Tuesday.
"In a roundtable discussion that featured complaints about the unfair 'narrative' of the news media, DeSantis sat behind a desk similar to one of a news anchor with the backdrop of the word 'Truth' on a screen," reported Emily L. Mahoney and Kirby Watson. "DeSantis spoke with six panelists including attorneys who litigate libel cases, libertarian journalist Michael Moynihan and Nicholas Sandmann, a conservative activist who has spoken extensively about his mistreatment by mainstream media outlets."
“They come after me — and they do do a lot of slander — but I fight back. I have a platform to fight back … I got thick skin,” said DeSantis. “But you have some of these other folks who are just run-of-the-mill citizens, their only possible way of recourse would be to be able to bring an action [in court].”
DeSantis didn't propose any specifics. However, last year his office released draft legislation that would require courts to presume any claim by a media source that was quoted anonymously is false. Using anonymous sources is a common practice to prevent whistleblowers in government offices and other institutions from facing retaliation for coming forward.
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He also asked a panelist whether anonymous sources could be cited as proof of "actual malice" — the standard the Supreme Court ruled is required for politicians and public figures to sue journalists for defamation in New York Times v. Sullivan. Prior to that ruling, it was common practice for Southern politicians to use the threat of lawsuits to prevent the press from covering the details of how Jim Crow segregation laws worked.
Former President Donald Trump, whose endorsement catapulted DeSantis into office as governor of Florida and who has since turned on him as a potential rival for 2024, has pushed very similar ideas about curtailing First Amendment freedom of the press, complaining about anonymous sources and arguing the U.S. should "open up" libel laws to go after journalists.
In his time as governor, DeSantis has routinely used state power to crack down on free expression. He passed a controversial law that forced schools to censor and remove books pending a "review". He has also interfered in Florida universities, weakening tenure protections for professors and defunding "diversity" programs.