If you aren’t currently being sued by Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) yet you might be starting to feel like you’ve been left out of the club. Both CNN and the Daily Beast have been put on notice that the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking member will be summoning them to court over incorrect reporting on his dealings with Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas related to Ukraine. One of the stories from CNN ran only yesterday, but Nunes informed Breitbart that lawsuits were on the way and could be hitting both outlets’ doorsteps shortly after Thanksgiving.
“These demonstrably false and scandalous stories published by the Daily Beast and CNN are the perfect example of defamation and reckless disregard for the truth,” Nunes told Breitbart News late Friday night. “Some political operative offered these fake stories to at least five different media outlets before finding someone irresponsible enough to publish them. I look forward to prosecuting these cases, including the media outlets, as well as the sources of their fake stories, to the fullest extent of the law. I intend to hold the Daily Beast and CNN accountable for their actions. They will find themselves in court soon after Thanksgiving.”
We still don’t know specifically which parts of the coverage of the Parnas story are alleged to be inaccurate, but those details should be forthcoming presently. And let’s be honest… would you be all that shocked to find out that one of the reporter’s unnamed sources had gotten something wrong or spun it to make Nunes look worse?
But at the same time, suing journalists for making mistakes is a pretty tough sell to make in court. The judicial system has long been loathe to take any actions that could be seen as intimidation toward reporters or suppression of freedom of the press. And even if it can be shown that some of the information is incorrect, both outlets can simply run a correction and blame their sources. It’s sort of a get out of jail free card.
The only way Nunes can prevail against CNN and the Daily Beast is if he can somehow prove that the incorrect information was published intentionally and for a malicious purpose toward him. While many of us would have no trouble believing that such instincts aren’t at all uncommon in mainstream media newsrooms, proving such an assertion in court is another matter entirely.
At some point, I would have thought that Nunes would begin wondering how well his reputation will fare if he’s seen as being litigious to the point of being abusive. Keep in mind that he already has a $250M lawsuit going against the Twitter parody account of an imaginary cow as well as Twitter itself. He has an even bigger lawsuit in progress against GOP political consultant Liz Mair. (Who, while not a cow, engages in plenty of parody herself. Just kidding, Liz!)
When I first found out Mair was being sued for $400M I suggested I might come up with something to sue her over myself. Who knew she had that kind of cash lying around? Well, it turns out she doesn’t. (She has a legal defense fund going, in fact, if you’re feeling generous.)
Granted, the cow’s account posts a lot of very unpleasant things about Nunes. And Liz Mair has been highly critical of him on social media. But these remain examples of free speech, whether you happen to agree with the speakers or not. Trying to bust out news outlets or social media commentators because they’ve aired incorrect information or been uncharitable to you isn’t a really good look for a member of Congress. It leaves the public with the impression that you’re a thin-skinned bully who will try to litigate your opponents into submission.
By all means, go to the mat with CNN and the Daily Beast if they’re spreading incorrect information. But do so by putting out the actual truth and then demanding a correction and retraction. If you’re that bothered by trolls on Twitter, use the mute function. (Blocking them can get you in trouble with the courts, as the President has learned, but they won’t know if you mute them.) But just as with cooks in the kitchen, too many lawsuits can spoil the broth.