'King Of Bullshit News' Sees His Bullshit Libel Lawsuit Tossed For A Second Time

from the just-because-you're-angry-doesn't-mean-you're-right dept

Michael Leidig, the owner of Central European News, wasn't thrilled BuzzFeed called him the "King of Bullshit News" in a 2015 article. The BuzzFeed investigation dug into CEN's publishing business and found the company did nothing more than generate a steady stream of salacious and rarely plausible "news" stories, which were then picked up by other "news" agencies (Mirror, Sun, etc.) less concerned with accurate reporting than with racking up page views.

The firm’s business model, like that of many other news agencies, is to sell a regular stream of stories and pictures to other media companies, which publish them under the bylines of their own reporters. In CEN’s case, these include a string of stories from relatively remote parts of China, India, Russia, and other non-Western countries. They tend to depict the inhabitants of those countries as barbaric, sex-crazed, or just plain weird. And often they are inaccurate or downright false.

Leidig, a UK citizen, sued. Libel laws in the United States aren't anything like the ridiculous ones Leidig enjoys at home. Unsurprisingly, his lawsuit was tossed by the New York federal court. The court said Leidig couldn't actually counter BuzzFeed's assertions of "bullshit" with any real facts, so there was no chance passing this along to a jury would result in anything but a dismissal.

Leidig appealed the April 2019 decision. But there's nothing better waiting for him at the appellate level. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the bogus lawsuit with a five-page summary order [PDF].

The Appeals Court says the district court had it right the first time: if Leidig can't prove BuzzFeed's assertions were false, there's no libel case to be made.

The District Court’s decision on summary judgment focused on falsity. The District Court observed that, apart from the conclusory affidavits of Leidig and CEN employees, Plaintiffs “provide no evidence that BuzzFeed’s eight statements about the CEN stories are false.” Leidig, 371 F. Supp. at 144. It further determined that “BuzzFeed has shown that no reasonable juror could find the statement[s] or [their] reasonable implications false.” Id. at 150.

Furthermore, this is not your normal defamation lawsuit.

For example, the District Court found that “[o]ther than Leidig’s self-serving and discredited testimony,” Plaintiffs offered no evidence regarding the accuracy of the story about young people walking cabbages in China out of loneliness. Id. at 145. Similarly, the District Court noted that, in Leidig’s deposition, he admitted that “he does not know where the quotes in the Two-Headed Goat Story came from.” Id. at 148.

Leidig argued that his insistence that he's a good, honest man who employs good, honest reporters should be enough to allow the lawsuit to move forward. No deal, says the court. Not when free speech is on the line.

Plaintiffs primarily contend that the District Court incorrectly applied this Court’s decision in Celle v. Filipino Reporter Enterprises Inc., 209 F.3d 163, 188 (2d Cir. 2000), using it (erroneously, they argue) to eliminate from the court’s consideration “nearly all of [their] evidence, including declarations of Mr. Leidig and deposition testimony by him and by four of his journalists.” This contention is unavailing. As we held in Celle, “While a bland cryptic claim of falsity supported by the credibility of a witness might be sufficient to establish a proposition in other civil cases, the First Amendment demands more.” The District Court reasonably determined that Plaintiffs’ conclusory assertions alone are insufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact with respect to the falsity of the contested statements made by Buzzfeed.

The lower court's decision stands and Leidig is almost out of options. His lawyer appears to believe the Second Circuit Appeals Court can't interpret its own decision.

Harry Wise, CEN and Leidig’s lawyer, told iMediaEthics, “A decision that credits one side’s evidence and devalues the other side’s violates the basic rules that should be applied on a motion for summary judgment. The idea that the First Amendment prevents a libel plaintiff from creating an issue of fact as to the libel’s truth or falsity by testifying that he does not do the bad thing that the libel accuses him of doing is simply wrong–not supported by the Celle case that the panel invokes or by any other authority.

Wise and Leidig are asking for an en banc hearing on the case. This seems unlikely to happen. This isn't a novel issue that would be better addressed with a few more sets of eyes on it. It's a bullshit lawsuit brought by someone who wasn't thrilled his "news" service didn't generate much factual news. "Bullshit" is a term of headline art and it has been properly applied here. Testifying that you "do not do the bad thing" just isn't enough -- not when the other side has plenty of evidence saying that yes, as a matter of fact, you do.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, defamation, free speech, king of bullshit news, libel, michael leidig, slapp
Companies: cen


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Zof (profile), 17 Jan 2020 @ 11:00am

    Man, if Buzzfeed thinks your news is bullshit, I mean well

    that's really saying something.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2020 @ 11:18am

    It works both ways

    It would work both ways though. If you could testify that "do not do the bad thing'", then the entity you're suing could claim the same. Both sides now claim they never do anything wrong. Accept both claims are true and case dismissed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2020 @ 11:56am

    Up next, Breitbart and Stormfront join CEN to argue "hurt feels" should be enough to prove libel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Jan 2020 @ 11:57am

    Can't devalue something that doesn't have value to begin with

    Harry Wise, CEN and Leidig’s lawyer, told iMediaEthics, “A decision that credits one side’s evidence and devalues the other side’s violates the basic rules that should be applied on a motion for summary judgment.

    Hate to break it to you but 'trust me' is not evidence, and as such has no value in a case like that. If your client had good evidence showing that Buzzfeed's articles were wrong and they knew it before writing it up you would have presented that, but as the first court pointed out nothing of that sort was brought up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Qwertygiy, 17 Jan 2020 @ 7:32pm

      Re: Can't devalue something that doesn't have value to begin wit

      To be honest, their logic there explains a lot about how they've handled the entire case.

      If just saying "it's true" should be believed over extensive documentation showing that it's false, then Buzzfeed saying "it's false" should be believed over extensive documentation showing that it's true!

      And if that's the case, their reputation would be irrepairably shattered, because anyone who saw Buzzfeed saying "it's false" would automatically believe it, because everything you are told must be treated as absolute fact until someone says something else!

      And that is why they provided absolutely no verifiable, believable, or even theoretically-possible evidence to back them up, because it would be utterly useless! The only thing that could ever be more convincing than words -- is more words!

      Heck, that even explains why their business model consists of just making up random crap they can tell to anyone who might listen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2020 @ 12:53pm

    So what the court is saying...

    Plaintiffs offered no evidence regarding the accuracy of the story about young people walking cabbages in China out of loneliness.

    While a bland cryptic claim of falsity supported by the credibility of a witness might be sufficient to establish a proposition in other civil cases, the First Amendment demands more.

    is "pics, or it didn't happen".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2020 @ 5:03pm

    "We can't be arsed to argue our own point. We've got nothing. But i swear we are good people therefore we win."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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