In the last few days, two defamation cases filed against media companies by the Trump campaign have been dismissed – one on the merits and one by agreement of the parties. This includes the suit filed by the campaign against Northland Television, the licensee of a rural Wisconsin television station. That station was perhaps the smallest TV station to air an ad by a non-candidate group, Priorities USA, that the Trump campaign alleged was misleadingly edited to assert that the President had labeled the coronavirus a “hoax.” As we wrote here when that suit was first filed, the campaign claimed that the reference to the hoax was not about the virus itself but was actually a reference to “the Democrats’ exploitation of a pandemic and related characterization of the candidate’s response to the pandemic.” This suit was vigorously opposed by the station and the sponsor of the ad. The parties have now agreed to voluntarily dismiss that suit with prejudice, meaning that it cannot be refiled.
Another suit was brought by the campaign against CNN alleging that CNN had libeled the President by publishing on its website an article from one of its contributors who alleged that the campaign had assessed the risks of seeking Russian assistance in the 2020 campaign and had “decided to leave that option on the table.” The campaign alleged that the statement was false and defamatory – and published with knowledge that it was false. CNN had countered that the statement was protected as it was presented as opinion, not fact, and moreover it was published without “actual malice.” As we have written before (see, for instance, our articles here and here), under Supreme Court precedent, a claim about a public figure for defamation can only be sustained if it is both false and published with “actual malice” – meaning that the publisher knew that it was false, or acted with reckless disregard as to whether or not it was false and published it anyway.
Continue Reading Two Trump Defamation Claims Dismissed Including Claim Against TV Station for Political Attack Ad – What is the Relevance for Broadcasters?