Harvard Law Professor Files Defamation Suit Against The New York Times Over Epstein Donation Story

Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. April 2, 2007. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad (QATAR)

Update 4/13/2020:   Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig drops defamation suit against The New York Times after the paper changed the headline and lead paragraph, and issued an editor’s note.


Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig is suing The New York Times for defamation.

In a complaint filed on January 13th in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Lessig alleges that the Times used a “false and defamatory ‘clickbait’ Internet headline and lede to drive readers to their story and web site.”

On September 14, 2019, the Times ran an article entitled, “A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It In Secret.” The article was written in the wake of the revelation that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Media Lab director, Joichi Ito, had knowingly accepted money from the late Jeffrey Epstein. The lede reads: “It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying.”

In his suit, Lessig says the headline and the lede misrepresented what he had written in an essay published on Medium on September 8, 2019. “Defendants published their headline and lede despite their both being the exact opposite of what Lessig had written and despite being told expressly by Lessig pre-publication that they were contrary to what he had written. When Lessig brought the matter to Defendants attention post-publication, they refused to remove or edit their headline and lede to reflect the truth.”

In the essay, Lessig said it was a mistake to accept donations from Epstein, but also wrote that Ito shouldn’t have been “scapegoated” for his actions.

According to The Hill, the Times stand behind the story. “Senior editors reviewed the story after Professor Lessig complained and were satisfied that the story accurately reflected his statements,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We plan to defend against the claim vigorously.”

 The Hill  Reuters  Complaint