'It’s garbage': Media critic tears apart Donald Trump’s defamation lawsuit against CNN
On Monday, October 3, former President Donald Trump filed a defamation lawsuit against CNN, and he is seeking $475 million in damages. This lawsuit comes at a time when CNN, under its new CEO Chris Licht, is toning down the type of anti-Trump commentary that was prominent on the Sunday program “Reliable Sources” (which CNN canceled).
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple analyzes the lawsuit in his October 4 column, tearing it apart and laying out some reasons why he believes Trump doesn’t have a strong defamation case.
“Did Donald Trump miss the news?” Wemple writes. “Under Chris Licht, CNN’s new chairman and CEO, the network is embracing middle-of-the-road newscasting and has parted ways with high-profile staffers who spoke in blunt terms about Trump’s behavior in office. If the former president is grateful, he’s not showing it.”
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Wemple continues, “Trump filed suit against CNN on Monday, alleging that it has strived ‘to defame (Trump) in the minds of its viewers and readers for the purpose of defeating him politically.’ This culminated ‘in CNN claiming credit for ‘(getting) Trump out’ in the 2020 presidential election,’ according to the complaint filed in a Florida federal court…. Like other Trump lawsuits, this one lacks substance — more bluntly, it’s garbage — with its only utility being as a guide to this country’s wide-ranging First Amendment protections.”
With its unanimous 1964 ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren defined defamation as something that requires “actual malice.” CNN had plenty of Trump-bashing commentary in 2020 and 2021, but Wemple argues that none of it rose to the level of full-fledged defamation. “Hyperbole,” Wemple points out, isn’t the same as defamation.
One statement that Trump describes as defamation in his lawsuit came from CNN’s Jake Tapper in January 2021, when Tapper told viewers, “There is a reason Trump was in Arizona: to push the legislature to disenfranchise the state’s voters based on all of his deranged election lies.”
Wemple explains, “To defame someone, you must make a false statement that purports to be a fact about that person…. It’s well established that Trump has been told, again and again, that his claims about a stolen election are false…. Even if Trump believed his own statements, however, Tapper’s commentary would be protected as hyperbole — a valued commodity in a democratic society.”
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