Friday, April 19, 2024

Anti-CNN Defamation Ruling May Set Up SCOTUS Showdown on Press Protections

‘It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts…’

CNN Suddenly Shows Concern About Classified Leaks
Photo by red, white, and black eyes forever (CC)

(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) How far can an off-the-rails media go before it hits the limits of its First Amendment protections?

The question has been raised before, as the George W. Bush administration attempted to prosecute journalists and Obama’s Justice Department actively spied on them, as well as issuing subpoenas for records.

But the liberal press‘s animus toward President Donald Trump has thrust the debate even farther into the spotlight—and they may not like the answer.

Although CNN recently won a court-ordered injunction against the White House from barring disruptive correspondent Jim Acosta, the Georgia-based left-wing mouthpiece was dealt a blow on Friday when a defamation ruling in the 11th Circuit made it easier to sue the media in federal court, said the Hollywood Reporter.

The question at hand relates to the state-passed protections from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), meaning frivolous suits that people might pass to discourage or penalize media investigations.

On one hand, states like Georgia require that there be a “probability” of winning in order to pursue litigation in a defamation case. At the federal level, however, there need only be a “plausibility.”

In addition to protecting media companies, the protections can apply to anyone involved in a defamation suit, including President Trump, who had a frivolous suit from porn star Stormy Daniels recently dismissed under Texas anti-SLAPP laws.

However, 11th Circuit Judge William Pryor ruled against CNN’s efforts to have dismissed a suit stemming from a 2015 series about Florida’s St. Mary’s Medical Center. The series accused the hospital of having a mortality rate three times the national average for infant heart surgeries. Its then-chief executive, David Carbone, who was forced to resign as a result, sued saying it was a false comparison, including both open- and closed-heart statistics which carried different risks.

Pryor said the objective in the anti-SLAPP laws was the same regardless of the different wording, and that Georgia’s legislation did not necessarily support the First Amendment simply by discouraging and dismissing cases before going to trial.

“That the aim of the statute is to protect First Amendment rights is irrelevant, because the anti-SLAPP statute advances that end by imposing a requirement on a plaintiff’s entitlement to maintain a suit,” he wrote.

Because other courts have issued opinions upholding the state anti-SLAPP laws, the case could garner the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, said the Hollywood Reporter.

However, doing so may be a gamble for the media companies, as recently-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, now a crucial swing vote, had previously written an opinion that Pryor himself used to frame his argument.

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Michael Avenatti (screen shot: Fox News/Youtube)

While that may frighten away media companies from pressing the issue, it could possibly lead to what would, no doubt, be a highly followed showdown involving Stormy Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, that could rival Hustler v. Falwell as the sleaziest defamation case ever to go before the bench.

But even the 1988 Hustler ruling—which upheld the media’s right to satire public figures and later was turned into a Hollywood movie—could be put to the test if Trump has any say.

The president issued an outraged tweet over the weekend charging NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” with defamatory statements and saying it ought to be tested in court, potentially setting up a definitive legal answer to the much wondered question, “Is ‘SNL’ still a comedy show?”

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