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Lawfare 101: Trump campaign sues CNN, NYT and WaPo for ‘false and defamatory’ coverage

Lawfare 101: Trump campaign sues CNN, NYT and WaPo for ‘false and defamatory’ coverage
The Trump 2020 re-election campaign has now sued three major mainstream media outlets for defamation, in a move that seems less about legal redress than about holding self-appointed guardians of democracy actually accountable.

On Friday, the campaign filed a lawsuit against CNN for “100 percent false and defamatory” statements in a report that alleged the US president had decided to leave “on the table” the option of “again seeking Russia’s help” in the 2020 election.

Jenna Ellis, the campaign’s senior legal adviser, said the lawsuit – along with the complaints against the New York Times and the Washington Post, filed earlier this week – seeks “to hold the publishers accountable for their reckless false reporting and also to establish the truth.”

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The lawsuits are not entirely unexpected, as the campaign threatened to file them back in October 2019, and now seems to be following through on that promise. They seek millions of dollars in compensatory damages and apologies for false and defamatory reporting. Neither is likely to happen, but that’s sort of beside the point, as Ellis’ statement suggests.

It’s not a stretch to say that CNN, the Post and the Times have been uniformly hostile to President Donald Trump since before he took office in January 2017, and only more so thereafter.

The Post and the Times actually won Pulitzer prizes in 2018 for “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage... that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign” – which were not revoked even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe found nothing of the sort.

To its credit, CNN actually retracted a story alleging ties between Trump and Russia that turned out to be false, and fired the three people behind it – but only that one time, among the many breathless “bombshells” that ended up the same way.

Instead, the mainstream reporters take umbrage when Trump calls them “fake news.” They howl how they are victims of his dictatorial oppression and a veritable jihad against freedom of speech – even as they campaign for deplatforming, doxxing or even imprisoning meme-makers, bloggers, and citizen-journalists such as WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

Just last week, CNN host Christiane Amanpour called for journalist solidarity against the Bad Orange Man, calling her colleagues the true “pillars of democracy and freedom,” who are “there forever” while those pesky elected officials who are actually answerable to voters “may be there for a few terms.”

In this worldview, cheered by Amanpour’s colleagues at CNN and elsewhere, “journalists” are a special class that’s above the law or accountability, while the narratives mainstream outlets present as established facts are sacred and anyone challenging them hates democracy itself.

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That apparently includes Trump, as well as anyone who voted for him in 2016 or supported him since. One example of how this works in practice is the case of high-schoolers from Covington, Kentucky who wore Trump campaign hats during their visit to Washington, DC in January 2019. One of them was named and shamed in the media for “aggressively smirking” at a peaceful Native American elder and Vietnam veteran – none of which was true – and ended up suing the Washington Post and CNN over it. While the Post lawsuit was tossed, CNN recently settled for an undisclosed amount.

It is possible the Trump campaign is looking to achieve the same thing. Lawsuits are one of the time-honored public relations weapons in the US, serving that purpose even when they fail on legal grounds. However, two details about this particular batch of lawsuits suggest there might be more to it. The campaign is quoting undercover videos recorded by Project Veritas to establish the existence of deliberate malice at CNN, which is the high threshold required by defamation lawsuits under US law. Meanwhile, Trump himself is not the plaintiff, meaning that the defendants can’t claim the US government is targeting them to produce a “chilling effect on freedom of the press.”

“Who will guard the guardians?” ancient Roman poet Juvenal famously asked. We’re about to find out.

Also on rt.com Trump campaign sues Washington Post for ‘millions of dollars’ over ‘false and defamatory’ statements on ‘Russia collusion’

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