Trump Campaign Actually Sues TV Station Over Anti-Trump Ad

from the bringing-free-speech-back dept

A few weeks back, we noted that the Trump Campaign was sending threatening letters about a TV ad by the PAC Priorities USA that criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic. You can see it here:

As we noted, the threat letters only caused a lot more people to watch the ad, and it seemed notable that they only focused on one single line in the ad, and not the rest of it. Now the campaign has, incredibly, made good on the threats and filed suit against at least one TV station, WJFW-NBC in Wisconsin.

The lawsuit is for “common law defamation” and is — like so many Trump or Trump Campaign lawsuits — not about any real legal issue, but mostly about three things: (1) creating chilling effects for others, (2) performing for the Trump base, and (3) fundraising for the campaign. There is no chance this lawsuit gets anywhere. Political advertising is among the most protected under the 1st Amendment, and, in fact, Congress has rules telling broadcasters that they cannot reject political ads from campaigns even if they’re false. Of course, this ad is from a PAC, not the campaign directly, so that rule does not apply directly, but the general 1st Amendment principles still very much apply.

On top of that, there is no way in hell that the clips, as cut, meet the high bar for defamation of a public figure. The argument made by the campaign is that the clip takes one thing that Trump said — “this is their new hoax” — and takes it out of context. The context being that Trump was referring to the Democrats’ “politicization” of COVID-19, and the ad implies he’s saying that the disease itself is a hoax. The problem is that the difference here is not even remotely close to what it takes to be defamatory, even if it’s misleading. For one thing, Trump was playing down the threat and risk of COVID-19 in criticizing Democrats, who were warning that it was going to be a big deal. And that proved entirely accurate. The context here does little to actually make Trump look any better, and in no way rises to the level of it being defamatory.

On top of that, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, the Trump campaign itself has regularly (for years!) posted much more misleadingly cut videos of his critics, including Joe Biden. So, even if the Priorities USA ad was defamatory, it would open up the Trump campaign to similar claims many times over. But it’s not defamatory.

It’s notable, of course, that Wisconsin, where this lawsuit was filed, has no anti-SLAPP law at all. And while the case is still likely to get thrown out at an early stage, the lack of an anti-SLAPP law means that (1) they’re much less likely to get back attorney’s fees, and (2) it’s still going to involve much more expensive legal work than if they could use an anti-SLAPP law.

Still, even though the case will get thrown out, Trump will “succeed.” Already I’m seeing clueless fans of Trump’s (the same ones who insist they’re all for the 1st Amendment) cheering on this example of Trump “hitting back against the fake news media” and it will almost certainly create chilling effects at other news stations that don’t want to take on the time and expense necessary to defend even this kind of bogus lawsuit. And that’s a huge shame, because a key aspect of the 1st Amendment is to protect political discourse — even when that discourse is misleading.

At the very least, this case should be a strong reminder that (1) Wisconsin needs an anti-SLAPP law and (2) so does the federal government.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , , , ,
Companies: wjfw

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Trump Campaign Actually Sues TV Station Over Anti-Trump Ad”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
25 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Now, on to the discovery phase and- hey, where you going?'

The problem is that the difference here is not even remotely close to what it takes to be defamatory, even if it’s misleading. For one thing, Trump was playing down the threat and risk of COVID-19 in criticizing Democrats, who were warning that it was going to be a big deal. And that proved entirely accurate.

That really is the kicker, and something that got buried in the last article on this debacle: No matter which ‘context’ you go with, the ad is still accurate. Trump was downplaying COVID-19 and the democrats were right in calling him out on that.

Trump wants to argue that the ad is not just ‘misleading’ but defamatory because what he really meant with that line was that the democrats were engaged in a ‘hoax’ when they claimed that he wasn’t taking it seriously? In their shoes I would be salivating to respond to that, with examples just lined up and ready to be submitted into the record.

Truth being a defense to defamation in the US I expect that unless Trump is aiming to win not on the merits(which his case utterly lacks) but simply by attrition as soon as it comes time to present actual evidence whatever lawyer(s) he’s got in charge of this PR stunt of a lawsuit will suddenly find that they’ve got something terribly important they need to get back to somewhere else.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 'Now, on to the discovery phase and- hey, where you going?'

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating since Trump is allergic to the truth. The fact is, Trump was gambling American lives (again) for his own ego. By the time the virus hit Italy, it was clear what was needed and what should be done. Preparation for lockdown, ensuring hospitals and others had access to the correct supplies, procurement of tests when available, etc. South korea was providing the clear blueprint for others to follow. Even Spain have been criticised for being too slow to react and we did that weeks before Trump acknowledged the problem.

But, Trump has pinned much of his credibility on a strong economy. After the impeachment, he needed it more than ever for re-election. Taking any action whatsoever risked spooking the markets, and even if he saved lives he wouldn’t have the markets to fall back on for his ads.That’s why his was early to announce rescue packages for them – it was a gamble. If he could save the markets, but avoid an outbreak of the pandemic on American soil, he could use that as is reelection campaign.

But, his gamble failed. Horribly. People need to be reminded that people are currently dead because he wanted to save the Dow Jones, and his own skin by extension.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rico R. (profile) says:

As someone from Wisconsin, it’s disheartening to see Trump take advantage of the fact we have no Anti-SLAPP law. I’d say, at the very least, we should push for such a law in Wisconsin. However, seeing as the GOP seemed more interested in pushing the state Supreme Court to convene over teleconference to force voters to go out to the polls in person WHILE the world is in a pandemic, I don’t foresee them acting on such legislation anytime soon…

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...
Older Stuff
10:43 California Governor Signs Bill Forbidding The Use Of Rap Lyrics As Criminal Evidence (12)
10:45 The Onion Files Hilarious Amicus Brief In An Important Case, And Actually Makes A Key Point In The Best Way Possible (23)
09:31 There Are Real Threats To Free Speech Everywhere. Cancel Culture Is Far Down The List (338)
10:44 Germany's Government Continues To Lock People Up For Being Extremely Online (18)
09:35 Saudi Prosecutors Are Targeting A US Citizen For Tweets Criticizing The Government (18)
13:36 Finally, Some Good News: Federal Anti-SLAPP Law Introduced (9)
16:43 5th Circuit Rewrites A Century Of 1st Amendment Law To Argue Internet Companies Have No Right To Moderate (625)
12:03 Court To Public University: Yeah, It's A 1st Amendment Problem When You Delete Comments You Don't Like (16)
10:46 Judge Blocks 'No Recording Cops Within 8 Feet' Law Even Arizona Cops Don't Want To Defend (6)
09:31 Virginia Court Rejects Prior Restraint, Says Old Law Used In Attempt To Ban Books Is Unconstitutional (18)
12:20 Censorship Starts At Home: Turkish Gov't Controls The Press, Repeatedly Claims It Does Not Control The Press (6)
05:35 Wannabe Censor Ron DeSantis Is Now 0 For 2 With His Censorship Bills: Court Throws Out His 'Stop WOKE Act' As Unconstitutional (34)
09:38 Elon Musk's Legal Filings Against Twitter Show How Little He Actually Cares About Free Speech (35)
12:07 Virginia Politicians Are Suing Books They Don't Like (65)
09:21 Appeals Court Corrects Its Previous Error, Holds That Recording Cops Is A Clearly Established Right (8)
15:27 Federal Court Allows Protesters' First Amendment Suit Against Violent Boston Cops To Continue (26)
19:39 Student Expelled Over Off-Campus Nazi Joke Can Continue To Sue The School, Says Appeals Court (205)
10:42 Twitter Sues Indian Government Over Orders To Block Content (3)
10:47 Policymakers Need To Realize How Any Internet Regulation Will Impact Speech (135)
10:44 More Than Two Thirds Of States Are Pushing Highly Controversial (And Likely Unconstitutional) Bills To Moderate Speech Online (50)
13:38 Australia's Upside Down Internet Liability Policy Shows How Section 230 Enables More Free Speech (87)
09:28 The Moral Panic Is Spreading: Think Tank Proposes Banning Teens From Social Media; Texas Rep Promises To Intro Bill (88)
12:15 Federal Agent Stupidly Threatens Twitter User With Arrest Over Protected First Amendment Expression (57)
09:31 How The Dobbs Decision Will Lead To Attacks On Free Speech; Or, Why Democrats Need To Stop Undermining Free Speech (52)
10:46 Devin Nunes Loses Yet Another SLAPP Suit, This Time In California (21)
09:28 Philippines Orders Critical News Organization, Rappler, Shut Down; Just As Rappler's Founder Argues Against Free Speech (11)
09:19 Clarence Thomas REALLY Wants To Make It Easier For The Powerful To Sue People For Criticizing Them (32)
15:39 Twitter Successfully Quashes Sketchy Copyright Subpoena Over Billionaire's Critic On Twitter (237)
12:14 Giant Private Prison Company Goes To Court To Try To Get Lawyer To Stop Tweeting About Them (15)
10:48 UK Approves Extradition Of Julian Assange, Allowing The US Government To Continue Criminalizing Journalism (46)
More arrow