How Are Damaging News Articles About Me Legal? Featured Image

How Are Damaging News Articles About Me Legal?

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Many potential clients who call our office ask, “How are damaging news articles about me legal?” This question often arises after encountering articles that negatively impact one’s reputation or professional standing. The legality of such articles rests on the delicate balance between freedom of expression and protections against defamation—a legal framework rife with nuance.

Damaging news articles about you can be legal due to several key protections afforded to the press under the law. Firstly, if the content of the article is substantially true, it is protected, as truth is a defense against defamation claims. Secondly, expressions of opinion are generally shielded under the principle of free speech, provided they do not imply untrue facts. Additionally, reports considered to be fair and in the public interest, such as coverage of public figures or matters of significant public concern, are often legally permissible.

These protections ensure that the press can exercise their right to free expression, even if the information shared may negatively affect someone’s reputation, and are a driving reason why suing news publications to remove content is not typically an advisable strategy.

At Minc Law, we have extensive experience navigating the complex intersection of internet defamation, content removal, and reputation management. We have helped thousands of clients remove unwanted content, such as damaging online news articles, from the internet and monitor the web for subsequent content.

In this article, we will explain how and when damaging news articles can legally exist and the paths available for individuals seeking redress. We will unpack the legal nuances and offer practical advice for managing your reputation.

Defining Defamation

While damaging articles can harm your reputation, they are not necessarily unlawful. The First Amendment protects a broad range of expressions, even if they are hurtful. However, the situation shifts dramatically when the content crosses into defamation territory.

To be considered defamatory, a statement must be demonstrably false and presented as a fact rather than an opinion. The core elements of defamation are:

  • Falsity: The statement must be false. Truthful statements, regardless of their impact, do not constitute defamation.
  • Publication: The false statement must be communicated to someone other than the person it concerns.
  • Fault: There must be evidence of negligence or actual malice on the part of the person making the statement.
  • Harm: The statement must cause damage to the subject’s reputation. This can manifest as financial loss, personal distress, or harm to professional relationships.

Understanding these distinctions is key to recognizing when a harmful statement crosses the line from merely damaging to legally actionable defamation.

Purpose of Defamation Laws

The distinction between damaging and defamatory content is crucial in understanding the legal landscape surrounding news articles. While damaging articles might harm an individual’s reputation, they are not typically considered unlawful due to the robust protections of free speech in the United States. However, not all speech is protected.

Defamation laws are not designed to criminalize speech but rather to provide a remedy for those harmed by false statements. While some states have criminal defamation statutes, these are rarely prosecuted due to the strong protections for free speech in the U.S. Instead, defamatory articles can expose the publisher to civil liability for publishing a false statement of fact.

It is important to note that hurt feelings alone do not constitute defamation. Defamation law strives to balance protecting an individual’s reputation with safeguarding the principles of free speech. This balance often results in a clash between the two, contributing to the complexity of removing defamatory news articles online. In many cases, suing the media is not the most effective or advisable strategy due to these free speech protections and the challenges of proving defamation.

Reasons Why Damaging News Articles May Be Legal

The news media have broad defenses and protections under the First Amendment. These legal shields often allow news publications to share information even if it may negatively affect individuals’ reputations.

Truth & Substantial Truth

The defense of truth, including its nuanced cousin, substantial truth, is a key reason many damaging news articles are considered legal.

In defamation law, truth is an affirmative defense. If the information presented in a news article is accurate, the piece is protected against defamation claims, no matter how damaging it may be to someone’s reputation. This principle is founded on the notion that the public has a right to access factual information; thus, accurate reporting is encouraged and safeguarded.

Substantial truth adds a layer of complexity to the defense of truth. If the “gist” of the article is true, minor inaccuracies do not render the piece defamatory. This concept acknowledges that absolute precision in reporting is not always achievable. As long as the core assertions of an article are true, and any deviations from the absolute truth do not alter the overall impression created by the publication, the article is protected.

News entities are typically diligent in their reporting, and many supposed inaccuracies fall under the umbrella of substantial truth. This reality underscores why legal action against the media, particularly for accurate reporting, is usually not advisable.

Opinion & Fair comment

The legal distinctions between fact and opinion play a crucial role in defamation claims, often serving as the second major reason damaging news articles can legally circulate.

Opinions are subjective thoughts, feelings, or conclusions that cannot be proven true or false. The law protects these expressions under the premise that individuals have the right to share their perspectives without fear of legal consequences. As a result, when news articles clearly present content as opinions, they are generally shielded from defamation claims.

The principle of fair comment further bolsters the defense of opinion. It allows for criticism of matters of public interest, like opinions regarding public figures, political matters, and societal issues as long as these comments are not made with malice.

Fair Report Privilege

The fair report privilege offers another layer of protection to journalists and media outlets. This privilege allows for the reporting of official public proceedings or statements by public officials, even if the information reported is defamatory, provided the reporting is fair and accurate.

This privilege acknowledges that access to information about public proceedings, such as court cases, legislative sessions, or official press conferences, is fundamental for a transparent and democratic society. Therefore, media reports that offer a fair and accurate representation of these events are protected, even if the information could be seen as damaging to someone’s reputation.

For the fair report privilege to apply, the report must meet certain criteria:

  • The report must be a fair and accurate summary of the official record or proceeding.
  • The proceeding or statement reported on must be public and of interest to the community.
  • The report should clearly indicate its source, usually by stating that the information comes from an official document or proceeding.

Wire Service Defense

The wire service defense is a less commonly known yet significant defense that can explain the legality of certain damaging news articles. This defense protects news organizations that republish information obtained from reputable wire services, such as the Associated Press (AP) or Reuters.

The wire service defense allows these outlets to republish news from these services with a reasonable trust in their accuracy without independently verifying every detail of the content. This defense acknowledges the complexities of news distribution in the digital age, where speed and efficiency are crucial.


The concept of newsworthiness underscores the importance of reporting on issues of public concern, even if such reporting may negatively affect an individual’s reputation.

Newsworthiness is based on the premise that the public has a right to be informed about events, occurrences, and issues that have a significant impact on society. This principle protects the media when they report on matters of public concern, such as political developments, criminal activities, public health issues, and other topics that affect the community’s collective interest.

Challenging a media organization on the grounds that a report was not newsworthy is difficult, given the broad protections granted to journalists. Courts tend to defer to the media’s discretion in determining what is of public interest, recognizing the importance of a free press in a democratic society.

In our experience, we generally recommend waiting six to nine months after a “newsworthy” article has been published before attempting removal. This allows us to better understand the “newsworthiness” of the article and ensure that no major updates, such as those in criminal or other legal matters, restart the removal process.

Incremental Harm Doctrine

The Incremental Harm Doctrine revolves around the idea that if the plaintiff’s reputation was already so poor when the defamatory statement was published, any additional harm caused by the new statement is considered negligible or incremental.

This lesser-known defense applies in situations where the subject of a defamatory statement has a reputation that is already significantly tarnished. In such cases, the law presumes that the latest defamatory statement does not substantially worsen the individual’s reputation beyond its already damaged state. As such, the plaintiff may not be entitled to damages, even if they are otherwise able to prove defamation.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is a time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. It ensures that claims are made while evidence is still fresh and relevant, but it also impacts the feasibility of pursuing defamation claims.

The statute of limitations for defamation varies by state but generally ranges from one to three years from the date the statement was published. This time frame is relatively short, especially when considering the complexities of preparing for a legal battle.


When an individual explicitly or implicitly consents to the publication of information about themselves, they may have a challenging time pursuing a defamation claim regarding that content.

Consent, in this context, implies that the person agreed to the publication of the material, potentially relinquishing their right to claim defamation if the article includes misleading or false information. However, the scope of the consent – what specific information was consented to be published – plays a crucial role in determining its validity as a defense.

If consent was given but the published content includes additional false statements not covered by the consent, the situation becomes more nuanced. The key question becomes whether the defamatory content falls outside the bounds of what was consented to. If so, the individual may still have grounds for a defamation claim.

Internet Defamation lawyer Checklist

Immediate Steps to Remove Damaging News Articles About You Online

If you are facing damaging news articles online, there are actionable steps to mitigate the impact and protect your reputation. These strategies, rooted in legal content removal practices, offer a pathway toward addressing and removing negative online content.

Gather Evidence & Prepare to Support Your Claim

If you want to remove damaging news articles from the internet, the first and most critical step involves gathering evidence to support your claim. This evidence is necessary to prove defamation and quantify the harm caused by the defendant’s statement.

Even if you do not pursue litigation, evidence may help with alternative content removal methods like an editorial request. Without concrete evidence, convincing a publisher to take corrective action becomes significantly more challenging. This evidence can take many forms, including:

  • Screenshots and URLs: Preserve the defamatory content through screenshots or web archiving services. URLs of the specific articles or pages where the content is located are crucial for pinpointing the source of defamation.
  • Documentation of Harm: Collect any evidence that shows the real-world impact of the defamation on your reputation, career, personal relationships, or mental health. This could include emails, social media comments, professional evaluations, or any other relevant communications that indicate the negative effects of the article.

Using web preservation software or services that can capture and save the state of web content can offer an extra layer of protection. Specialized software can create an admissible record of the content, even if it is altered or removed at a later date.

Reach Out to the Editor

Contacting the publication’s editor directly may be an effective way to address damaging news articles. This approach provides an opportunity to present your case, request a review of the content, and potentially achieve corrections, apologies, or even removal. The success of this strategy often hinges on how convincingly you can argue that the article violates journalistic standards, contains inaccuracies, or otherwise merits revision.

Further, reaching out to a publication’s editor may not be the best removal option in cases where you have already reached out to the editor, as this may “poison the well” and decrease the chances of removal.

When communicating with editors:

  • Be Honest and Direct: Approach the editor honestly about the issues at hand. Any hint of deception can hurt your credibility and reduce your chances of a positive outcome.
  • Maintain Respect and Professionalism: Despite any grievances, it is crucial to remain respectful and avoid personal attacks against the editor or the publication. A hostile approach is likely to be met with defensiveness.
  • Be Concise: Editors operate under constant deadlines, so brevity is appreciated. Clearly and quickly outline your concerns, demonstrating an understanding of their time constraints.
  • Be Patient: The process of getting an article retracted or corrected can be lengthy, often taking weeks or even months. While it is appropriate to follow up, try to do so with patience and respect for the publication’s review process.

It is important to note that some publications have strict policies against removing content. For example, publishers like Gannett are known for their reluctance to unpublish articles. In these cases, presenting substantial evidence of inaccuracies or defamation is even more critical. Even then, success is not guaranteed, but a well-supported case improves the odds of a favorable outcome.

Consider Hiring an Experienced Content Removal Attorney to Help

When facing negative news articles, seeking the assistance of a content removal attorney can be a strategic move. These professionals bring specialized knowledge, experience, and a level of objectivity that can significantly enhance your efforts to address damaging content.

They are also effective negotiators who can advocate on your behalf. Their presence signals to publishers that you are serious about your request, potentially leading to a better outcome.

Attorneys can also submit strategic editorial requests. Unlike demand letters, which threaten legal action, editorial requests are often more polite and appeal to a collaborative dialogue with content creators or publishers, even when the content is true but potentially harmful.

Before engaging with an attorney, it is useful to disclose any previous attempts to resolve the issue directly with the publication. This transparency allows the lawyer to tailor their strategy to achieve the best possible resolution.

Submit Takedown Requests Via the Website’s Takedown Portal

Many news websites and online platforms offer a takedown portal or a formal process for individuals to dispute and request the removal of content. These channels can facilitate the removal of damaging articles, particularly when supported by a legal analysis and evidence.

By formally submitting a request, you also create a record of your efforts to resolve the issue, which can be useful if further action becomes necessary.

Utilize Google’s Outdated Content Removal Tool

If you are grappling with defamatory content appearing in Google’s search results, the Outdated Content Removal Tool offers one way to address issues related to outdated or removed web pages.

Google’s tool is designed to remove search results for content that no longer exists or has been significantly updated on the website. This is particularly useful for cases where a defamatory article or page has been deleted or altered, but the outdated version continues to appear in Google’s search results.

Here are some tips for using Google’s Outdated Content Tool:

  1. Verify Content Status: Before using the tool, confirm that the content is indeed outdated. Google will not consider requests for content that is currently live and unchanged.
  2. Submit a Removal Request: Navigate to Google’s Outdated Content Removal Tool and enter the URL of the outdated content. You will need to provide specifics about the nature of the content update or removal.
  3. Follow Google’s Guidelines: Follow Google’s instructions and guidelines for submitting a removal request. This may involve specifying whether the content has been completely removed or significantly altered.
  4. Wait for Review: After submission, Google will review the request to ensure it meets their criteria for removal from search results. This process may take some time.

Please note that Google is a search engine and not a content regulator. It encourages individuals to resolve disputes directly with website owners or through legal channels when necessary.

Send a Cease & Desist or Retraction Demand Letter

A cease and desist letter, or a retraction demand, is a formal notice sent to an individual or entity engaging in potentially unlawful actions, like defamation. This letter serves as a warning to stop the disputed activities immediately and refrain from repeating them in the future. It often concludes with a statement indicating that legal action may follow if the recipient fails to comply with the demands.

It is important to direct the letters to the people with editorial control over the content. This ensures that the notice reaches those with the authority to make the necessary changes or remove the content.

A demand letter can often expedite the resolution process, potentially sparing you the emotional and financial burdens of a court battle. Letters drafted by an internet defamation attorney tend to add weight to your demand, showing the recipient that you are serious about taking legal action if necessary.

While a demand letter can be a powerful tool, it requires a careful approach to avoid the Streisand Effect. This phenomenon refers to situations where an attempt to suppress content only leads to increased publicity. The Streisand Effect is a risk when sending demand letters because an ineffective letter could inadvertently draw more attention to the defamatory content.

Send a DMCA Takedown Notice

When negative online content includes your original photographs, artistic creations, or writings, it may constitute a violation of your copyrights. In such cases, a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice can effectively remove unauthorized content.

A DMCA takedown notice is a legal request to remove copyrighted material that has been posted online without the copyright holder’s permission. This notice is typically sent to the individual who uploaded the content unlawfully or to the platform, website, or search engine hosting the material. The DMCA is often faster than obtaining a court order.

A valid DMCA takedown notice must contain specific elements, including your contact information, a description of the copyrighted work, the location of the infringing material, a statement of copyright ownership, and a statement that the information in the notice is accurate.

While individuals can issue DMCA takedown notices on their own, the process involves legal requirements that, if overlooked, may lead to the notice being ignored or even legal challenges against the issuer. Therefore, it is advisable to work with an experienced attorney to ensure the notice is correctly prepared and sent.

Long-Term Steps to Handle Damaging News Articles on the Internet

Navigating the aftermath of damaging news articles requires a proactive and strategic approach. Beyond initial actions to remove or correct the content, you should work to build a positive online presence that mitigates the impact of any unwanted content.

Explore De-Indexing From Google

When direct removal of damaging news articles from the source is not feasible, de-indexing from search engines like Google presents an alternative strategy to reduce the content’s visibility. De-indexing makes the page invisible in search engine results, making it less accessible without actually removing it from the website where it was published.

Google and other search engines offer mechanisms for requesting the removal of certain types of content from their indexes. This includes personal information, such as social security numbers or explicit images shared without consent, which clearly qualify for removal. If the content in question is incorrect or violates Google’s Terms of Service, there is an option to flag this content directly through Google.

In some cases, you can negotiate with the webmaster of the site hosting the negative content to add a “no-index” tag to the URL, effectively requesting search engines not to index that particular page.

Monitor the Internet For Future Publication

Proactively monitoring the internet for new content about you or your business is a key part of managing your online reputation. Early detection of potentially damaging content allows for timely responses, which can mitigate reputational harm.

Google Alerts is a free tool that sends email notifications whenever new results match your specified keywords. By setting up alerts for your name, business name, or other relevant terms, you can receive real-time updates on new content published online.

Also, searching for your name in incognito mode can provide an unfiltered view of how your online presence appears to others.

Finally, a digital risk protection (DRP) service can offer comprehensive monitoring across the internet. These services scan a wide range of sources, including news sites, social media platforms, and forums, for mentions of your name or business. DRPs provide alerts, reports, and insights that can help you understand and manage your digital footprint more effectively.

At Minc Law, we provide digital risk protection services for clients who want to identify negative content and digital threats on the internet and mitigate their impact.

Suppress the Damaging News Article With Reputation Management

When direct removal of damaging content is not feasible, online reputation management (ORM) strategies are a viable alternative.

By generating positive, constructive content, you can effectively suppress negative articles in search engine rankings, making them less visible to the public. Over time, as more positive content is created, the negative article is pushed down in search results, where it is less likely to be seen by individuals searching for your name or business. Suppression strategies can include:

  • Publishing press releases,
  • Updating social media accounts,
  • Creating a blog, or
  • Contributing articles to other websites.

It is important to remember that effective reputation management requires consistency and patience. The process of suppressing negative content takes time and a steady stream of positive content to achieve desired results. Regularly engaging with your audience through various digital platforms not only enhances your online presence but also fortifies your reputation against future negative content.

We Can Help You Explore Your Options to Remove Damaging News Articles

If you are the target of an unflattering, damaging, or false newspaper article, we can help you explore your removal options. At Minc Law, we have extensive experience strategically (and delicately) approaching news publications to negotiate the removal of damaging online content – all without drawing further attention to the matter.

“Minc Law was excellent and helped me resolve a situation where my name was dragged through the mud in a newspaper and online, with false accusations. Nothing we did with our online strategy seemed to push the negative article down in search results. I had lost business and stressed about it for many months before finding them. They helped me in two ways. First, they determined who else was copying the false info and republishing it on Indian-based websites. We were able to pay these sites to remove the articles/mentions. Second, and most importantly, Dorrian worked with me and my team to understand the full situation surrounding the negative article and headline. Then she crafted an expertly-written letter that laid out the rationale for asking the newspaper to remove the article from the internet. She sent the letter to the newspaper, who then decided that her arguments were persuasive enough to remove the article! I did not think this result was possible and am so grateful!”

R. Hunden
January 30, 2024

To schedule your initial no-obligation consultation, reach out by calling us at (216) 373-7706 or filling out our online contact form.

Are you being defamed online? Contact Minc Law today!

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