First Amendment

Times lawyer is surprised by viral response to Trump letter; he wrote it in about 45 minutes

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New York Times vice president and assistant general counsel David McCraw writes dozens of letters every year responding to lawyers who are unhappy with the newspaper’s coverage.

McCraw says he knew his letter on Thursday to Donald Trump’s lawyer would be different, but he was surprised by the viral response. More than a million people visited the New York Times website to read the letter by Friday night, McCraw writes for the New York Times Times Insider.

McCraw’s letter responded to Marc Kasowitz, a Trump lawyer who demanded a retraction of the New York Times story about two women who alleged the presidential candidate had groped and kissed them without their agreement. Kasowitz had written that the Times story was defamatory and constituted libel per se.

McCraw wrote the letter in about 45 minutes on Thursday morning. Three of his colleagues reviewed the draft for about 30 minutes, and minor tweaks were made.

McCraw’s letter responded that the Times had reported on an issue of national importance. “We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern,” the letter said. “If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

McCraw received hundreds of emails after his letter was posted online. He heard from lawyers he didn’t know, former law school classmates, and students he had taught 30 years ago. “One person took issue with my comma usage,” McCraw writes. “Somebody suggested I be disbarred. I was made aware of a raging online debate set off by the letter over whether there should be two spaces or one after a period. …

“The most moving of the emails were from women. Many saw my letter as standing up not just for The Times but for the two women who had come forward to our reporters to tell their stories.”

McCraw has a reputation for defending press freedoms, according to lawyers and journalists who spoke with (sub. req.) about their interactions with him. Theodore Boutrous Jr. of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has worked with McCraw on several legal matters.

“He really is the consummate media lawyer because he has the First Amendment built into his DNA,” Boutrous told

Article updated on Jan. 11 to correct spelling of Kasowitz’s first name.

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