Russian technology executive Aleksej Gubarev sued BuzzFeed, claiming that dossier contained details about him that were false. He argued that BuzzFeed’s reporters never bothered to contact him to determine the accuracy of claims that he had directly participated in hacking the Democratic Party’s computers during the 2016 campaign.
Christopher Steele’s unverified Russia dossier, which contained memorably salacious details about the Kremlin possessing some incriminating footage of Donald Trump in a hotel room, alleged Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Miami-based U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro sided with BuzzFeed’s argument that publication of the document was protected by fair report privilege.
The judge found that the dossier was the subject of official proceedings — namely, investigations at the highest levels of the U.S. government and the briefed to two successive presidents. Its disclosure gave the public the information it needs to exercise oversight of the government.
BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith issued a statement on Twitter, saying the news organization was vindicated in its decision to publish the document.
“As Judge Ungaro affirmed in her ruling, a key principle underlying the First Amendment is that the public has a right to know about actions taken by its government,” Smith wrote.
Gubarev contended that BuzzFeed had an obligation to give the incendiary allegations in the dossier “line-by-line scrutiny.” The judge rejected this argument, saying it would “curtail the scope” of reporting privilege and restrict the press’ ability to do its job.