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.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-slapp, defamation, devin nunes, fishing expedition, free speech, journalism, slapp, source protection, sources


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Apr 2019 @ 1:35pm

    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.

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