President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
There’s been plenty of debate about the appropriateness of the litigiousness of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) as he battles newspapers, political operatives, and social media platforms such as Twitter in defamation suits sprung from his time working on the Russian collusion hoax. Nunes had all manner of things said about him and now he’s suing just about everyone involved in sharing what he says are smears and malicious lies.
Now the Trump campaign joins Nunes in taking their libel woes through the court system — rather than, presumably, simply decrying “fake news” from the stump — and filing a lawsuit against the New York Times for an op-ed written by a former Times editor during the 2016 campaign.
In the lawsuit in state court in New York, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. said the newspaper knowingly published false and defamatory statements when the Op-Ed piece claimed the campaign had an “overarching deal” with “Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy” to defeat the Democratic candidate.
The lawsuit blamed the newspaper for the essay, saying the March 2019 article headlined “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” by Max Frankel, said the deal called for “the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.”
Frankel was executive editor of the Times from 1986 to 1994.
The lawsuit said Times reporters had confirmed the falsity of the statements, but the newspaper published them anyway because of its “extreme bias against and animosity toward the Campaign, and The Times’ exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020.”
According to the lawsuit, the campaign sued to recover unspecified damages, publicly establish the truth, properly inform the newspaper’s readers and the rest of the world and to seek appropriate remedies for the harm.
The Times, of course, is not going down easy, suggesting that — despite the op-ed writer’s former high-ranking position at the newspaper — opinion writing is covered under free speech and the news outlet itself can’t be held liable.
Oh, and of course that the lawsuit is simply another way that Donald Trump and team are attacking dissent.
A spokesperson for the Times pushed back on the lawsuit, signaling that the newspaper planned to fight it.
“The Trump Campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” the Times spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”
No matter here one comes down on the issue of using the courts to try to tamp down on the spread of misinformation, libel laws exist for a reason and using those laws — instead of, say, counterattacking on social media — may, in fact, be the most responsible way to handle these matters.
If the suit against the Times is successful, however, look for opinion writing to tighten up in the future.