Former President Donald Trump sued CNN for over $475 million in damages in a Florida federal court early Monday evening.
The 29-page defamation lawsuit says the network “seeks to create the news” and makes clear that this accusation is what Trump himself has long characterized as “fake news” in his public statements.
“Beyond simply highlighting any negative information about [Trump] and ignoring all positive information about him, CNN has sought to use its massive influence— purportedly as a ‘trusted’ news source—to defame [Trump] in the minds of its viewers and readers for the purpose of defeating him politically, culminating in CNN claiming credit for ‘[getting] Trump out’ in the 2020 presidential election,” the filing claims.
Attacks on the 45th president recently began again in earnest, the filing claims, due to fears that he would run for president in 2024.
The lawsuit claims that defamatory labels of “racist,” “Russian lackey,” “insurrectionist,” and ultimately “Hitler” are routinely and “repeatedly” applied by the network’s “allegedly ‘reputable’ newscasters” to Trump and that such voices do not assert those labels as” hyperbolic nor opinion,” but as facts, “with purported factual support.”
Those alleged mischaracterizations, Trump claims, echoing the language of defamation law, are not made “merely with reckless disregard for the truth of their statements,” but “with real animosity” for the former president and the intent “to cause him true harm.”
The filing goes on to make a novel argument: that U.S. Supreme Court-crafted defamation standards, which are quite exacting and hard to meet for public figures, are met in this case, but shouldn’t apply.
“Even though the actual malice standard is met here, in circumstances like these, the judicially-created policy of the ‘actual malice’ standard should not apply because ‘ideological homogeneity in the media—or in the channels of information distribution—risks repressing certain ideas from the public consciousness just as surely as if access were restricted by the government,'” the lawsuit argues. “Suits like these do not throttle the First Amendment, they vindicate the First Amendment’s marketplace of ideas.”
The lawsuit notes that CNN anchor Brianna Keilar has denounced the network’s rival Fox News for peddling a “buffet of cultural war cuisine” and for being “predictably hypocritical” while accusing CNN of doing much the same due to their attacks on Trump.
“CNN has undertaken a smear campaign to malign the [ex-president] with a barrage of negative associations and innuendos, broadcasting commentary that he is like a cult leader, a Russian lackey, a dog whistler to white supremacists, and a racist,” the filing says. “It is the stuff of tabloids cloaked as ‘honored’ news.”
The heart of the complaint relies on the argument that CNN engages in “Intentional, Willful, and Malicious Libel and Slander” against Trump. This section begins by referring to a January 2022 segment by CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria, which the lawsuit cites as an exemplar of “CNN’s persistent association of [Trump] to Adolf Hitler and Nazism.”
“A focal point of the report is a discussion of the ascendancy of Hitler and comparisons to [Trump], interspersing discussion of Hitler and Nazi Germany with footage of the [45th president],” the filing says. “Zakaria states in the report, ‘Let’s be very clear. Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler.’ But the disclaimer is lost in an otherwise direct and graphic analogy.”
The filing qualifies the impact of Zakaria’s segment by citing “responses to the program on Twitter,” including screenshots of Tweets in the complaint, and saying the “effect on viewers is apparent.”
The lawsuit contains additional times CNN has compared Trump to Hitler, including an August 2019 segment by then-host Brian Stelter, a March 2019 broadcast with the headline “Top House Democrats Compare Trump’s rise to Hitler’s,” and a December 2019 Anderson Cooper interview with recording artist Linda Ronstadt wherein she compares “America under the leadership of President Donald Trump and Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.”
“No matter how lovely a voice she may have, Ronstadt is a singer, not a historian,” the filing says. “The interview is merely a pretext to repeat CNN’s message under the guise of real ‘reporting.’ More problematic is the use of celebrities to propagate CNN’s message.”
The filing additionally argues that CNN’s repeat use of the term “big lie” to refer to Trump’s false claims of electoral fraud during the 2020 presidential election are actually an attempt to tar the former president to the use of the “Big Lie” concept made famous by Hitler and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
The lawsuit, again, at length [emphasis in original]:
CNN’s highly defamatory and persistent association of the Plaintiff to Hitler and Hitler’s “Big Lie” is no mistaken misappropriation. It is wanton and malicious “reporting” intended to feed a narrative and to achieve a desired end: to cause readers and viewers to associate the Plaintiff with the lowest of low, to fear him, to not vote for him, and to support campaigns against him. The inflammatory “reporting” is not intended to help discover truth or actual facts or to help educate readers and viewers to come to their own informed decisions. It is intended to aggravate, scare, and trigger people. Indeed, the Hitler characterization is one that courts across jurisdictions have historically considered defamation per se.
Law&Crime reached out to CNN for comment on this story. A representative said the network is not planning to comment on Trump’s lawsuit.
[image via Jeff Swensen/Getty Images]
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