Jeannie Suk Gersen
The New Yorker
Originally posted August 23, 2017
Here is an excerpt:
The class of professionals best equipped to answer these questions has largely abstained from speaking publicly about the President’s mental health. The principle known as the “Goldwater rule” prohibits psychiatrists from giving professional opinions about public figures without personally conducting an examination, as Jane Mayer wrote in this magazine in May. After losing the 1964 Presidential election, Senator Barry Goldwater successfully sued Fact magazine for defamation after it published a special issue in which psychiatrists declared him “severely paranoid” and “unfit” for the Presidency. For a public figure to prevail in a defamation suit, he must demonstrate that the defendant acted with “actual malice”; a key piece of evidence in the Goldwater case was Fact’s disregard of a letter from the American Psychiatric Association warning that any survey of psychiatrists who hadn’t clinically examined Goldwater was invalid.
The Supreme Court denied Fact’s cert petition, which hoped to vindicate First Amendment rights to free speech and a free press. But Justice Hugo Black, joined by William O. Douglas, dissented, writing, “The public has an unqualified right to have the character and fitness of anyone who aspires to the Presidency held up for the closest scrutiny. Extravagant, reckless statements and even claims which may not be true seem to me an inevitable and perhaps essential part of the process by which the voting public informs itself of the qualities of a man who would be President.”
These statements, of course, resonate today. President Trump has unsuccessfully pursued many defamation lawsuits over the years, leading him to vow during the 2016 campaign to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” (One of his most recent suits, dismissed in 2016, concerned a Univision executive’s social-media posting of side-by-side photos of Trump and Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015; Trump alleged that the posting falsely accused him of inciting similar acts.)
The article is here.