by Rick Moran
The congressman is putting the media on notice that "fake news" will be punished.
Rep. Devin Nunes filed a $150-million lawsuit against The McClatchy Company, alleging that the news service conspired with a political operative to derail his oversight work into the Clinton campaign and Russia probe.
The filing, obtained by Fox News, came a day after Nunes, R-Calif., revealed he would send eight criminal referrals to the Justice Department this week concerning purported surveillance abuses by federal authorities during the Russia probe, false statements to Congress and other matters.Nunes acknowledges the danger in suing the press but says Mair and McClatchy went beyond their roles as journalists to smear him.
In March, Nunes filed a similar $250 million lawsuit alleging defamation against Twitter and one of its users, Republican consultant Liz Mair. In Monday's complaint, Nunes again named Mair as a co-defendant, charging this time that she conspired with McClatchy reporter MacKenzie Mays to spread a variety of untruthful and misleading smears — including that Nunes "was involved with cocaine and underage prostitutes" — online and in print.
Reached for comment late Monday, Mair directed Fox News to a USA Today op-ed she penned earlier this week concerning Nunes' previous lawsuit entitled, "Free speech means I don't have to be nice to Devin Nunes on Twitter. So why's he suing me?"
A spokesperson for McClatchy told Fox News late Monday: "We have no comment and stand behind the strong reporting of The Fresno Bee," the McClatchy-owned publication cited throughout Nunes' lawsuit.
"They need to retract everything they did against me, but they also need to come clean with the American people," Nunes told Fox News' "Hannity" Monday night. "Retract all of their fake news stories. This is part of the broader clean-up. Remember, a few weeks ago, I filed against Twitter — they're censoring conservatives. McClatchy is one of the worst offenders of this. But we're coming after the rest of them. I think people are beginning to wake up now, I'm serious — I'm coming to clean up the mess."Nunes has an uphill battle to prove his case, and it wouldn't be surprising if a judge tossed the whole thing. But he has the right idea. Put people on notice that these sorts of actions have no place in the democratic process, whether the offenders are journalists or not.
The complaint filed on Monday specifically cited a May 23, 2018 article published by the Fresno Bee and written by Mays, entitled, "A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event."
The article described a lawsuit's allegations of a 2015 party aboard the yacht involving "25 of the Napa Valley-based [Alpha Omega Winery]'s top investors, all men — [who] were openly using what appeared to be cocaine and 'drawing straws' for which sex worker to hire."
Defamation law prohibits not only provably false statements but also heavy implications of falsities that harm defendants' reputations. However, public figures like Nunes must meet a high bar to prove defamation and must demonstrate that the defendants recklessly or intentionally spread falsehoods, rather than merely negligently.Can he prove that the falsehoods were "reckless and intentional"?
In his complaint, Nunes alleged that regardless, defamation law should not shield what he called a knowing and deliberate effort to "destroy" his reputation. "Indeed, the entire purpose of every element of the Yacht/Cocaine/Prostitutes article – the headline, the photo, the film clips, and the text itself — is to link Nunes to an event that McClatchy actually knew before publication he had no involvement with," the complaint stated.Again, the likelihood of success for Nunes is low. But discovery in this suit should be very uncomfortable for those being sued.
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