Court Tosses $11-Million Libel Lawsuit Brought By The 'King Of Bullshit News'
from the viral-crap-farm-wastes-everyone's-time dept
An $11-million defamation lawsuit brought against Buzzfeed by the head of a “news” agency has been dismissed by a New York federal court judge. Michael Leidig, who runs CEN (Central European News), didn’t like being hailed as the “King of Bullshit News” by Buzzfeed in 2015. He sued Buzzfeed nine months after the article was published. Leidig, a UK citizen, may have hoped for a more British take on defamation law, but libel law works differently here in the United States.
Judge Victor Marrero said that under New York law Leidig had to prove “fault” on behalf of Buzzfeed and “either negligence or actual malice depending on the status of the libelled party”.
And unlike UK law, the onus in the US was on Leidig to prove the statements were false (rather than on Buzzfeed to prove they were right).
While the judge held that Buzzfeed’s reporting was backed up by evidence he said Leidig and CEN could offer no evidence to support the stories it reported which Buzzfeed said were fake.
At the center of the case were a handful of “news” articles created by CEN. Many of these made their way into a number of tabloids across the world, going viral in the way that fact-checked stories rarely do. The stories included a Chinese man becoming riddled with tapeworms after eating sashimi, a Russian man surviving a bear attack when his Justin Bieber ringtone scared the bear away, and Chinese citizens treating cabbages like pets.
Buzzfeed’s long expose of Leidig’s handcrafted crap could find nothing to back up the claims made in a number of CEN’s biggest internet hits. As the court points out in its decision [PDF], CEN/Leidig claimed Buzzfeed made false statements in its article, but could not provide any evidence that actually countered Buzzfeed’s reporting.
BuzzFeed argues that Plaintiffs cannot show the falsity of the allegedly defamatory statements, and thus Plaintiffs’ claims must fail. The Court agrees. In the face of repeated instances where BuzzFeed points to specific evidence supporting the truth of the Article, Plaintiffs’ sole rejoinder is that neither Leidig nor any CEN employee admitted to knowingly publishing “a fake news story” or to “add[ing] phony quotations to a story.”
Apart from these statements, Plaintiffs provide no evidence that BuzzFeed’s eight statements about the CEN stories are false. As such, no jury could find BuzzFeed’s statements to be false.
Leidig and his lawyers piled vagueness on top of vagueness after Buzzfeed filed its response to Leidig’s complaint, refusing to engage with Buzzfeed’s counterarguments.
Plaintiffs’ inability to identify a genuine dispute of material fact is best exemplified by their decision to contest only one of the over two hundred numbered paragraphs in Buzz Feed’ s Rule 56. 1 Statement. For the remainder of the statements, Plaintiffs rely the blanket denial that “[i]n not challenging [BuzzFeed’s] other 215 assertions of fact, [P]laintiffs do not mean to concede that any particular ones are relevant and material to the issues raised on this motion [.]”
At the top of this pile of vagueness is Leidig’s cherry: an attempt to expand the claims of his lawsuit while failing to answer Buzzfeed’s response. The court says this combination “dooms” the lawsuit and it won’t help force Buzzfeed to “defend a moving target.”
[W]ith discovery concluded, it is clear that Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden. Because the Court finds that Plaintiffs cannot satisfy the falsity element for any of the eight statements, the Court does not address BuzzFeed’s alternative argument that Plaintiffs are public figures and would need to show that BuzzFeed made the statements with actual malice as to their falsity.
From there, the court addresses each of the eight viral CEN stories Buzzfeed claimed were false. In each case, Leidig was unable to refute Buzzfeed’s reporting. The court’s rejection of Leidig’s bullshit defenses makes for a pretty entertaining read, thanks to a rarely-seen combination of legal terminology and tabloid subject matter.
Other than Leidig’ s self-serving and discredited testimony, which is plainly insufficient to support a motion for summary judgment, see Celle, 209 F.3d at 188, Plaintiffs offer no evidence regarding the Cabbage Story’s veracity.
Plaintiffs cannot even demonstrate that they investigated the kitten’s status before writing the Pink Kitten Story. That is, Plaintiffs (once again) could not depend on their own reporting database to determine who wrote the story and who could verify its contents.
During his deposition, Leidig could not provide any details regarding the Nude Women Story, including the source of the quotes that were used in CEN’ s reporting of the story.
Unsurprisingly, Leidig stated in his depositions that he does not know where the quotes in the Two-Headed Goat Story came from.
Fun stuff. I mean, not so much for Leidig, but for those of us following along. He can appeal this decision but it’s not going to result in a win. However, it will result in more financial pain for Buzzfeed since it will be forced to defend itself against Leidig’s baseless claims one more time. New York’s weak anti-SLAPP law is no help here, so Leidig isn’t going to be paying Buzzfeed’s legal fees. Maybe this is all Leidig wants from the lawsuit: to annoy the entity that called him the King of Bullshit. It’s definitely a bullshit lawsuit and it has hung around the court system for three years longer than it should have.