A Harvard University law professor dropped his defamation lawsuit against The New York Times on Monday after the newspaper changed the headline and first paragraph in a story relating to his views about donations from financier Jeffrey Epstein.
In the lawsuit Lawrence Lessig filed in January, he objected to the story headlined: “A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret.” The story was based on an interview with Lessig about a Medium essay he wrote about Joi Ito, the director of MIT’s Media Lab, who resigned amid an uproar over the lab’s ties to Epstein.
The first sentence of the Times’ story read, “It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying.”
Lessig said in his lawsuit that the “clickbait” headline and first sentence were “sensationalized, false and defamatory.” Lessig said he was clear that he believed it was wrong for MIT to take Epstein’s money but didn’t think Ito should be “‘scapegoated’ for his mistake.”
An update at the bottom of the story now says the newspaper “referred imprecisely to Lessig’s views.” The Times wrote that “while Mr. Lessig defended Joi Ito, who had accepted anonymous donations from Jeffrey Epstein, he said he would prefer that institutions not accept such money.”
The headline is now the same as the print version, which read: “What are the ethics of taking tainted funds?”
The first paragraph now reads: “It is hard to defend a university official who anonymously accepted donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying, even though he wishes universities had never taken the money.”
Lessig said Monday he is glad the story has been corrected.
“Once the paper doubled down on its defense, I was convinced there was nothing —save a jury verdict—that would get it to change. I am happy I was wrong,” Lessig said in a Medium post.
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