UPDATED, with comment from Project Veritas: A federal judge has tossed out a defamation lawsuit filed by Project Veritas against CNN, concluding that an on-air statement made about the conservative group did not rise to the level of an actionable claim.
Last year, Project Veritas, known for its “sting” operations against members of the mainstream media, sued the network, contending that it misrepresented the reasons that it was suspended from Twittter.
In its lawsuit, they cited a Feb. 15, 2021, report in which Ana Cabrera said that its suspension from Twitter was due to “spreading disinformation.” In fact, the group said, it was suspended for “repeated violations of Twitter’s policies prohibiting the sharing—or threats of sharing—of other people’s private information without consent.”
In his opinion (read it here), U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones wrote that Project Veritas reputation would have been maligned either way. He wrote that “while there is some difference between violating a policy by providing incorrect or misleading information and violating a policy by truthfully providing someone’s private information (and potentially exposing a person to harm), the distinction is not enough to make the statement at issue actionable as both violations are similarly damaging to the journalist’s reputation. Project Veritas’s allegations and arguments do not plausibly suggest that the truth (as pled in the Complaint) would have a different effect on the mind of the average reader in terms of the reputational harm.”
In the segment, Cabrera, speaking to Brian Stelter, said, “We’re starting to see companies cracking down to try to stop the spread of misinformation and to hold some people who are spreading it accountable, Brian. For example, Twitter has suspended the account of Project Veritas, a conservative activist, uh, activist organization. At least that’s how they couch themselves … but this is part of a much broader crackdown, as we mentioned, by social media giants on accounts that are promoting misinformation.” Stelter had said that Project Veritas “got swept up in a Twitter policy by violating multiple rules on its site.”
Jones also rejected Project Veritas’ claim that CNN acted with actual malice, the threshold for public figures to prove defamation. Project Veritas had cited a public tweet made by Cabrera four days before the on-air segment. The judge concluded that such a determination was “not required at this time” because Project Veritas had failed to show an actionable claim.
An attorney for Project Veritas, Harmeet K. Dhillon, said in a statement, “The District Court dismissed Project Veritas’s case against CNN because, in the court’s opinion, listeners don’t care whether journalists are lying or telling the truth. We respectfully disagree with the court’s factual conclusion, particularly at this stage of a lawsuit. Project Veritas’ reputation is built on truth-telling. CNN clearly defamed Project Veritas by falsely stating as fact that Twitter removed Project Veritas for spreading misinformation.” Dhillon said that they were evaluating their options, including appealing to the 11th Circuit.
Project Veritas sued The New York Times in 2020 over a story on alleged voter fraud. In that suit, the group claims that the Times described some of the group’s video reports. In that case, a New York judge declined to dismiss the lawsuit.
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