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.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-slapp, chilling effects, defamation, donald trump, edits, free speech, political advertising, slapp, trump campaign, wisconsin
Companies: wjfw


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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 13 Apr 2020 @ 10:55am

    Truly scary

    Shift the context of the ad to be about the Trump administration itself instead of the Coronavirus...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2020 @ 11:05am

      Re: Truly scary

      His blustery incompetence and misguided over confidence applies to everything. I wouldn't trust him to help me pick out an orange skin toner.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Apr 2020 @ 11:06am

    '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.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Apr 2020 @ 12:10pm

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

      I don't they they plan to, or expect to win. This, as is said in the article, is merely a PR stunt.

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 9:38am

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

        It's not just a PR stunt. It's also intimidation. They want to scare TV affiliates into refusing to air anti-Trump ads.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 13 Apr 2020 @ 11:46pm

      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.

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

  • icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 13 Apr 2020 @ 11:18am

    As long as those in power see SLAPP lawsuits as a weapon to use against critics, there is no chance at all of getting a federal anti-SLAPPlaw passed.

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

  • icon
    Rico R. (profile), 13 Apr 2020 @ 12:31pm

    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...

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

  • identicon
    bshock, 13 Apr 2020 @ 12:35pm

    I hope Mass Murderer Trump lives to be 200 and spends the rest of his long, healthy life in prison.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2020 @ 6:50pm

      Re:

      I don't see how the warm body in the white house is responsible for any of it.

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

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 6:34am

      Re:

      Hopefully he is given an orange jump suit that matches his facial coloring and his hair.

      Will he be allowed to play with his Tweeter in prison? Will we get daily updates about how wonderful he is doing in prison? How everyone tells him how great he is going. People write him every day to congratulate him. Etc.

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

  • icon
    Beefcake (profile), 13 Apr 2020 @ 2:23pm

    I wonder if reality can get a summary judgment saying it can’t be sued for defamation.

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

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 13 Apr 2020 @ 4:15pm

    The problem here is..

    Trump didn't feel the need to do anything about the pandemic, because he sees it not as a MED-panic, but a DEM-panic.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 14 Apr 2020 @ 6:21am

    The Trump Effect can be explained best mathematically:

    (Streisand Effect) x (Nunes Effect) = (Trump Effect)

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

  • identicon
    Thom Paine, 18 Apr 2020 @ 8:50am

    trump's defamation lawsuit

    One of trump's favorite tactics for fighting people he disagrees with is to start expensive and time consuming non-sense lawsuits against them. That was one of his jailed lawyer's (Michael Cohen) main jobs . And that's probably the purpose of this lawsuit.

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


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