Devin Nunes Admits That His Bogus Defamation Lawsuits Are Really About Phishing For Journalists' Sources

from the slapp-suits dept

We have already talked about how the two separate defamation lawsuits Devin Nunes has filed against critics and journalists are bullshit SLAPP suits designed to intimidate and attack protected speech. But now Nunes himself has gone even further, admitting out loud that his intent with at least the second lawsuit, against the Fresno Bee, is to force the newspaper to give up its sources:

?I am absolutely sure that they do not want this to get to discovery so that we find out who their sources are,? Nunes told Fox & Friends. ?Somebody gave them the phony information that the National Rifle Association was involved with Russian collusion. Somebody gave them the phony information that Cohen was in Prague when he wasn?t.?

Here’s the video of him saying that:

So, first of all, the issue with the NRA and Michael Cohen aren’t even the subject of the lawsuit he’s filed, so that’s a bizarre thing to raise unless the intent of the lawsuit is purely performative for an idiotic base who wants to build up some big conspiracy. Second, he’s flat out admitting that the intent of his lawsuit is an attack on basic press freedoms like source protection. Remember, this is a Congressman who has sworn to uphold the Constitution, and that includes the 1st Amendment he is attacking with these lawsuits.

Furthermore, in the video Nunes suggests he’s not done yet, saying “we’re actually going to go after several media outlets.” Apparently, he’s decided going to war with the First Amendment is a good idea. Also in the video, Nunes claims that he sued Twitter for shadow-banning him, which (1) it did not do, and (2) it legally could if it wanted to, and (3) the shadow-banning, while talked about in the lawsuit, is not actually part of any of the actual claims in the lawsuit.

More and more this appears to be lawsuit-as-performance, allowing Nunes to rile up a base by pretending to take on critics and the media. And that’s exactly what the 1st Amendment does not allow — especially from a public, elected official. The fact that Nunes chose to file these cases in Virginia state court, with its much weaker anti-SLAPP laws, rather than in California’s courts (where he, the Fresno Bee, and Twitter, all are) suggests that even he knows these cases wouldn’t survive a true anti-SLAPP test. But now that he’s out and out admitting that the point of the lawsuits is to go on a journalistic source fishing expedition (even over stories totally unrelated to the one about him) certainly seems to confirm how much Nunes is focused on spitting on the First Amendment that he’s sworn to protect.

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Comments on “Devin Nunes Admits That His Bogus Defamation Lawsuits Are Really About Phishing For Journalists' Sources”

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68 Comments
Mr Plio Dean -- now there's a palindrome for ya says:

Re: Says "Gary" the astro-turfing.

Any new readers: this "account" has twelve comment in its first two years, then suddenly took off at 400 per year rate, with ardent support of Techdirt — and no more than one-liners on any topic, JUST support of the site. It has the bombastic tone of Timothy Geigner aka "Dark Helmet", and "darkflite" as its user name. Isn’t that interesting?

By the way: where are all the Zombie accounts this week, kids? Couple equivocal, but none of those with inexplicable long gaps, up to eight and a half years? Seems that my "news" pointing them out — even if I were wrong — is useful in suppressing suspicious "confidential sources" here on this site!

And Masnick has no interest in outing any of those, now does he? It’d reduce interest in the site, exactly as newspaper revealing its mysterious sources would, that’s why will fight this on principles that they don’t honor.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Says "Gary"

Damn straight, says me. I’m bombastic and caustic. Go fuck yourself Blue_Balls.

and no more than one-liners on any topic

An obvious falsehood, easily checked – I guess that makes you a… liar?

As a registered user it’s pretty easy to see that I’m not a zombie. Posting from multiple screen names as you do – that is the definition of a zombie troll.

Mr Plio Dean -- now there's a palindrome for ya says:

More of YOUR lying fake news. Public has a right to know.

Somebody gave them the phony information that the National Rifle Association was involved with Russian collusion. Somebody gave them the phony information that Cohen was in Prague when he wasn’t.”

I certainly want to know who is — even whether there is a "source" — spreading false information. Those two in particular are without question FALSE.

It’s a very serious matter for a reputable publication to print such allegations. We don’t need "free speech" if it’s all lies.

Newpapers have an obligation to print The Truth — including attempting to verify. Do you recognize NO such duty? No such notion as The Truth? Are you that far gone in your hatred of reality?

Masnick is entirely for falsehoods so long as against political opponents. You cannot read this rant any other way.

Mr Plio Dean -- now there's a palindrome for ya says:

Re: Re: Newpapers have an obligation to print The Truth.

Then why do they keep printing everything Donald Trump says?

Sheesh. That he says it IS The Truth.

You just blurted the very first stupid objection you came up with to try and show that could even be answered. Now that I’ve responded, you’ll try to do better.

Try to be on-topic, kid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Newspapers are obligated to print the truth? In my opionion, there seem to be plenty of bright bards that are just huffing tons of glue daily, mailing out every kind of nonsense under the sun. The buzz feeds them, not the truth. Info worse than fiction is a problem all around the globe, it’s inter-national; enquiring minds can’t just pick up the nearest rag for the weekly world news.

kallethen says:

Re: More of YOUR lying fake news. Public has a right to know.

I certainly want to know who is — even whether there is a "source" — spreading false information. Those two in particular are without question FALSE.

If those two items are truly false information, then why are they NOT the subject of the lawsuits?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because
1) Nunes doesn’t have standing to file a lawsuit on behalf of Michael Cohen or the NRA because a newspaper lying about Michael Cohen or the NRA doesn’t cause Nunes any harm
2) Lying is not a crime
2a) unless you’re lying to the government
2b) or you’re lying intentionally or carelessly and someone got hurt because you lied
2c) or you’re lying in bed with a minor

Paul says:

Being a politician is the only job you can get with no qualifications, no training, no relevant skills, and no experience – you just need more references than the other applicants. A fast food worker gets more job training than congress does.

I don’t know what the solution is, most politicians have shown they can at least be intelligent enough to get a 4 year degree, but what we’re doing now clearly isn’t working either.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

“From” “Wikipedia” “:”

States differ on their approach to protecting reporter’s privilege. As of 2011, 49 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of protections. Forty states (plus D.C.) have passed shield laws. These laws vary from state to state. Some protections apply to civil but not to criminal proceedings. Other laws protect journalists from revealing confidential sources, but not other information. Many states have also established court precedents which provide protection to journalists, usually based on constitutional arguments. Only Wyoming lacks both legislation and judicial precedent to protect reporter’s privilege.

“(Source)”

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wikipedia is not the Constitution.

Nor are States adopting different laws "shielding journalists" (do any of them actually define what a "journalist is?)

Your "sources" are simply OPINIONS of what someone else BELIEVES is contained in the simple, straight-forward wording of the First Amendment.

Nowhere does it have the words "protect" or "sources".

Taken to the far extreme, it COULD mean that all members of the press get a Golden Key to access any and all encrypted government information.

Even more extreme, that slaves can’t be members of the press.

Start reading in "emanations of a penumbra" and you can find anything you like in the document – up to it being legal to gas members of religions.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The sources for the information in that Wikipedia quote are actual laws and court rulings¹. The United States has no federal shield law (or a “common law equivalent”), which I would bet is a fact you already knew and counted on using as a “gotcha” moment.

¹ — Make sure to click on each of the four separate links.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You’re completely missing the point.

THE CONSTITUTION DOESN’T SAY THAT.

You’re using Appeal to Authority to justify the opinions of others.

They’re still nothing but opinions, and while the 49 courts that "agree" with your opinion seem to think it says something, they don’t agree on exactly what either.

All citizens are supposed to receive equal justice under the law in the US. That also means there’s no special class that gets different treatment under the law.

Hey, I’m all for a Free Press – they can print anything they want – from Enquirer stories to the Oxford American Dictionary definitions of words.

But if a member of the press commits a crime getting that information, which includes "shielding" a source who has committed crimes, they get charged and tried just like anyone who is NOT a member of the press.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

The Constitution doesn’t say a lot of things. Until and unless state-level shield protections are declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, they count as legal protections for journalists, even if the Constitution says nothing about shield protections.

A federal shield law would fix the disagreements between the states on what does and does not constitute shield protections. Whether you could find support for that in Congress, however, is likely dependent on kicking out of office the most anti-journalist president in history (and his Congressional cronies).

And yes, people are “supposed” to receive equal justice, but reality rarely works out that way. Just ask anyone who has ever been wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit, or anyone who has ever been on the business end of police brutality, or anyone who had their life savings stolen by people who received figurative slaps on their wrists for their economically devastating white collar crimes.

As far as the “journalists committing crimes” bit goes, I generally believe a journalist that has not committed a crime or directly and knowingly aided and abetted the commission of a crime should not be charged with a crime for protecting their source. (A notable exception: If they protect their source knowing that the source will commit further crimes, yes, the journalist should either give up their source or face jail time.) Journalists rely on the confidentiality provided by shield laws to cultivate and protect sources of information, especially those sources who are risking more than public embarassment if their identity is revealed.

To deny shield protections to journalists would upend the entire free press and prevent sources who want to remain anonymous from speaking out against, say, governmental abuses of power. It would fundamentally change how the press in the United States works — and not in a way that benefits the general public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Sure thing!

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

"Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press […]"

"Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom […] of the press […]"

What exactly is freedom of the press, then? Well, according to the courts, it includes these remarks on reporter’s privilege:

  • For a reporter to be called upon to testify in a criminal case, the government "must convincingly show a substantial relation between the information sought and a subject of overriding and compelling state interest." Additionally, "the asserted claim to privilege should be judged on its facts by the striking of a proper balance between freedom of the press and the obligation of all citizens to give relevant testimony with respect to criminal conduct". (Branzburg v. Hayes, 1972)
  • Further refined, they can only be subpoena’d if the evidence has a major implication in the legal case, and all other options to obtain this evidence have been tried without success. (Zerilli v. Smith, 1981)
  • Civil cases (such as Nunes’ lawsuits) are even more strongly protected. "A plaintiff’s interest in pressing such a claim can rarely, if ever, outweigh a newsman’s interest in protecting his sources." (Carey v. Hume, 1974)
  • 40 states (and Washington D.C.) have passed "shield laws" that protect journalists even more strongly than these federal decisions do. This includes California. It does not include Virginia.
David says:

This is perfectly allowed:

More and more this appears to be lawsuit-as-performance, allowing Nunes to rile up a base by pretending to take on critics and the media. And that’s exactly what the 1st Amendment does not allow — especially from a public, elected official.

The 1st Amendment most certainly allows pretending to take on critics and the media. And he can even take this pretense to court and let himself be theatrically slapped down. In terms of election campaigns, it’s certainly one of the more affordable ones, fishing for the votes of those people who consider the Constitution a libertarian work of the devil interfering with their reign in their God-given land.

Normie (profile) says:

Nunes admitted no such thing

Nunes did not "admit" the point of the lawsuit was fishing for sources – he said McClatchy falsely and repeatedly accused him of federal crimes. So he’s suing. Sounds righteous.

IF they lied – which seems clear – he deserves to win.

Every savvy plaintiff’s lawyer will get as much out of discovery as they can. The leftists are the masters of lawfare, so whining about the the other guy fighting back the same way is pathetic.

C’mon, Masnick. Get real.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Again, quoting Nunes:

I am absolutely sure that they do not want this to get to discovery so that we find out who their sources are

Who would reveal, write, or publish anything but the kindest, most flattering stories about Nunes if they, too, could be slapped with a defamation lawsuit? The whole point of this lawsuit is to intimidate voices critical of Nunes into silence. And Nunes all but confirmed that by implying how much he wants uncover sources, which is a nice way of saying “I want to make sure anyone who knows anything even remotely bad about me can never trust a reporter again”. And if he happens to win the lawsuit, he will destroy the credibility of the reporters involved, who will never again be fully trusted as reporters.

Hell, the whole reason he talked about “get[ting] to discovery” is likely to set up a settlement offer that would include at least a retraction of the story and a public apology. (“You wouldn’t want me to start digging around in your lives and find something I could use against you, would you? And I won’t if you’ll give me what I want.”) If he wanted to make it less blatant that this was his goal, he would not have said what he said on a live interview.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“And Nunes all but confirmed that”

Do you understand what “all but” means? Is that what you meant to say? What you are actually saying, and what I heard, is that he did not confirm anything other than he believes he has a good suit and the people he is suing depend on being non-transparent because they are liars and charlatans. Discovery is usually painful for people like that. Comprendo Senior?

Exactly like this site, same difference. In fact, did you see Ajit Pai speak recently? He said EXACtly the same thing about treating sites like this as media companies. This site, those sites, and many sates are NOT TRANSPARENT at all about their editorial policies. For example, the whole concept tha the “community” is the one who censors content here is a LIE.

It’s the same thing Nancy Pelosi is saying – when you lie and deceive and then hide behind some bullshit law like CDA 230, eventually things are going to go wrong for you.

God Bless Nancy, Ajit and special prayers to POTUS. Amen. MAGA

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Can you show a single “lie” that was said by anyone he is suing? And I do not mean “something unflattering about Nunes” — I mean an actual lie told with malicious intent/reckless disregard for the truth. You claim the people being sued are “liars and charlatans”; let us all see you back that claim up.

And as for the non-transparency bit? Yes, journalists do require some form of non-transparency to cultivate sources. If sources absolutely could not remain anonymous under any circumstance, fewer people would come forward as sources. If you believe otherwise, keep in mind that this principle applies to legal matters as well. To wit: Separation of church and state lawsuits. Atheists and people of minority faiths who file such lawsuits (or have legal groups file such lawsuits on their behalf) sometimes ask for anonymity in the filings because they fear being harassed — or worse — if their identities leak to people of the majority faith in a given city or town. A journalist’s sources may fear similar outcomes if their identity is made public, which is why they can remain anonymous unless the courts rule otherwise.

No one should feel afraid to speak out against government officials, whether they are illegally promoting religion or are tangentially involved with something scandalous. Nunes wants to make sure the sources for the story he is suing over feel that fear. For that, I will speak out against him. If you cannot handle it, sue me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Stop embarrassing your self, stop embarrassing yourself

The dossier that was initially funded by the republicans and used by a mostly republican special investigation? And written by a former British agent? You right wing nutters need to get your stories straight. At this point I’m embarrassed for you.

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