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Best practices for investigating litigious billionaires

By Taeler De Haes

We live in a world of billionaires who exert quite a bit of influence over our lives, especially as reporters.

At the recent IRE Conference in New Orleans, a panel of investigative journalists discussed getting sued by billionaires, including Donald Trump. They gave tips on how to bulletproof their work, defend themselves in court, and, if need be, recover from the fall.

The panel consisted of Lowell Bergman, formerly of 60 Minutes and now the Distinguished Chair of Investigative Reporting at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism; Monika Bauerlein, CEO of Mother Jones; Stephanie Grimes, former deputy editor of features at the Las Vegas Review-Journal; and Timothy L. O’Brien, executive editor of Bloomberg View and Bloomberg Gadfly. The panel was moderated by Reg Chua, the executive editor of editorial operations and data and innovation at Reuters.

The following is a list of tips for when billionaires bite back.

  • Be prepared. Suffering the consequences when doing something right is not always something journalists are prepared for.

  • You are probably right in the end.

  • Have really good lawyers.

  • Foster simulated learning.

  • Be prepared for people to call you a scumbag.

  • Remember that the truth will prevail.

  • Email discipline is key. Make sure your motives and questions are always neutral to prevent any allegation of malicious intent.


Taeler De Haes graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in May. She received her MA in investigative journalism and her BJ in broadcast journalism.

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