Judge throws out Trump’s ‘big lie’ defamation lawsuit against CNN
Trump argued that by using the phrase the “big lie” in reference to his unfounded claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, the network created an unfair association between him and the Nazi regime.
Hitler and Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels used the term as a propaganda tool that involved repeating a falsehood until the public started to believe it. A quote, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” is often attributed to Goebbels, though it’s unclear where the comment came from.
Trump argued that the network’s references to the “big lie” created a “false and incendiary association” between him and Hitler, and caused “readers and viewers to hate, contempt, distrust, ridicule, and even fear” him. But U.S. District Judge Raag Singhal ruled that the comments did not constitute defamation.
“CNN’s statements while repugnant, were not, as a matter of law, defamatory,” Singhal wrote in his ruling. Trump initially requested a $475 million judgment against the network.
CNN declined to comment on the dismissal. Trump adviser Steven Cheung said in an email that “CNN will be held responsible for their wrongful mistreatment” of the former president and his supporters, but did not elaborate.
“We agree with the highly respected judge’s findings that CNN’s statements about President Trump are repugnant,” Cheung said.
This is the latest in the former president’s series of legal woes. Prosecutors announced additional charges against him on Thursday, adding to allegations that he hid and hoarded classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. In March, he was indicted in New York state on charges that he falsified business records in connection with hush money payments made during his 2016 campaign.
And a possible third indictment is thought to be coming soon — this one on allegations that Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election, an effort that may have led to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Trump is also under investigation in Georgia for efforts to reverse his election loss in that state. A jury in New York recently found him liable in a civil case for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll in the mid-1990s.
In the CNN case, Trump’s lawsuit pointed to five examples of times the network’s coverage referenced the “big lie,” which Trump’s attorneys said CNN refused to retract. The instances ranged from opinion articles to analysis from CNN’s editor-at-large Chris Cillizza and an on-air mention from host Jake Tapper.
In one article, the judge’s ruling says, Cillizza wrote that Trump “continued to push the Big Lie that the election was somehow stolen despite there being zero actual evidence to back up that belief.” But those references did not rise to the level of defamation, according to Singhal’s order.
“CNN’s use of the phrase ‘the Big Lie’ in connection with Trump’s election challenges does not give rise to a plausible inference that Trump advocates the persecution and genocide of Jews or any other group of people,” the judge wrote. “No reasonable viewer could (or should) plausibly make that reference.”
The 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan raised the bar for what could be legally considered defamation against a public figure, solidifying the precedent that a statement about a public figure must be false and its publisher must have acted with “actual malice” for it to be found defamatory. Trump asked Singhal to reconsider the precedent-setting case, which the judge said he couldn’t do, despite misgivings he has about it.
The judge, whom Trump nominated in 2019, said the state of media is far different from when the Sullivan decision was made.
“The problem is essentially two-fold. First, the complained of statements are opinion, not factually false statements, and therefore are not actionable,” he wrote of the lawsuit against CNN. “Second, the reasonable viewer, unlike when Sullivan [was] decided, no longer takes the time to research and verify reporting that often is not, in fact, news.”
Two Supreme Court justices, including Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch, have also suggested that the standard set by Sullivan needs review.
CNN isn’t the only source of comparisons, directly or indirectly, of Trump to members of the Nazi regime. In 2020, then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden said then-President Donald Trump was repeating a “lie” in the same way Goebbels did in the 1930s and ’40s. Biden also compared Trump to the Nazi propagandist when he called for Trump’s impeachment in 2019.