Biggest MAGA Conference Threatens Politico With Bogus Lawsuit For Reporting On Conference Troubles

from the that's-not-how-any-of-this-works dept

CPAC, the "Conservative Political Action Conference" put on each year by Matt Schlapp's American Conservative Union (ACU), used to be the kind of gathering where Republicans would go to get their yearly talking points fed to them. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly tied at the hip with the Trumpists, as they took over the Republican party, threw out anything even remotely resembling principles, and just started acting like "making the libs cry" was a political platform. With the Republicans now losing both the White House and both houses of Congress, as well as some concerns about how some leading members of the Republican Party (looking at you Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley) were seen inspiring insurrectionists to storm the Capitol and try to overthrow an election, it seems like many people and organizations who would normally attend or sponsor CPAC (justifying it with the old "gotta work with both sides" nonsense) are deciding to stay away.

Politico has a pretty thorough story on the mess that includes this silly bit of nonsense:

ACU Chair Matt Schlapp said he is convinced this year’s conference will be no different from past years. “CPAC is going great,” he told POLITICO on Tuesday, before then saying that his quote needed to be attributed without his name.

That's not how this works, of course. You don't get to retroactively put conditions on a quote like that, and it's good that Politico didn't let him get away with it.

But why is this a Techdirt story in the first place? Well, because when Politico asked ACU some more questions, ACU's lawyer threatened to sue Politico for "tortious interference with business relationships." And that sort of censorial thuggery and threats of a SLAPP suit are just the kind of content we cover at Techdirt:

Schlapp did not address questions about why some sponsors were not continuing their CPAC sponsorship. But after those questions were posed and additional questions were sent to CPAC sponsors — including whether the Jan. 6 Capitol riot impacted their thinking about sponsoring again this year — ACU general counsel David Safavian accused POLITICO of “tortious interference with business relationships” and attempting “to ‘cancel’ both CPAC and the American Conservative Union itself.”

The full letter that Safavian sent to Politico is quite stunning.

We understand that Politico reporters are calling sponsors of our national conference (CPAC) and making claims about both our Chairman and our conference that are contrary to the facts. We know this because those very same potential sponsors have immediately contacted us. In pushing a misleading narrative to our supporters using corporate resources, Politico is attempting to chill sponsorship of CPAC and harm the American Conservative Union.

Nah, dude. They're reporting. It's kind of a key part of the the Constitution you pretend to love. The 1st Amendment protects the press. And that's even when the press asks uncomfortable questions to you or your business partners. That's not "attempting to chill sponsorship." It's just doing some basic beat reporting on the topic.

This effort amounts to tortious interference with business relationships. And whether your realize it or not, you are demonstrating to our sponsors and supporters your political bias. Fortunately, most see this effort for what it is: "fake news."

So, um, if your sponsors don't believe it, then there's no interference with business relationships and no damage. Also, again, basic reporting, such as asking questions is not tortious interference. Never has been. Never will be. What you are doing here with threats to sue, however, certainly raises some 1st Amendment questions. You're implying that you can use the power of the state (via the courts) to silence the press.

Our Founding Fathers understood that the press has a role to play in our democracy. As such, the Framers accorded the news media with protections in the First Amendment. However, Politico's continued campaign against the American Conservative Union crosses the line from protect speech to political activism.

Where did you get your law degree again? Can you get a refund? Even if it were true that this was political activism (and, again, it is not), political activism is... also protected under the 1st Amendment. You should ask Fox News, NewsMax and OANN about those protections. Because, boy, do they ever need them.

Although the American Conservative Union would rather find a solution that results in "accurate, nonpartisan" reporting again, we fully intend to explore our legal rights to hold Politico fully accountable for what we see as tortious conduct.

Explore away. Any sane lawyer would tell you that not only do you not have any case, depending on where you bring such a lawsuit, you'd probably end up paying Politco's legal fees. You're thuggishly trying to intimidate Politco from reporting on an obvious topic of public interest. Thankfully, it looks like Politico is not easily bullied, but thanks for the reminder that we need stronger anti-SLAPP laws in every state, and a strong federal anti-SLAPP law as well.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, cpac, david safavian, free speech, journalism, matt schlapp, slapp, threats, tortious interference
Companies: acu, american conservative union, politico


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 11:17am

    Is the general counsel, David H. Safavian, the same one that was pardoned in 2020 after being convicted of perjury with respect to his involvement with Abramoff?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 11:19am

    No, that seems fair

    Honestly I can't think of a single legitimate reason to ask sponsors of a republican run conference if the recent failed insurrection might impact their willingness to donate to the party given the repeated and consistent refutation by those within the party beforehand of the narrative that instigated the insurrection and the swift and unmistakable party-wide condemnation of the insurrection and willingness to punish those responsible afterwards, so gonna have to side with the conference here, Politico's actions are definitely 'fake news.'

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 11:26am

    reads letter
    sees claims that something is "contrary to the facts"
    doesn't see any statement of what, exactly, is "contrary to the facts"
    dismisses letter as legal thuggery

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

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 11:34am

    I think we all saw that coming, you can't spell Matt Schlapp without SLAPP.

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 12:46pm

    Is it schadenfreude if I laugh at the Redcaps before they lose the lawsuit, or do I have to wait until after?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 3:36pm

    the American Conservative Union would rather find a solution that results in "accurate, nonpartisan" reporting again

    looks around What.

    the American Conservative Union would rather find a solution that results in "accurate, nonpartisan" reporting again

    What?

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 3:51pm

      Translation:

      The American Conservative Union would rather find a solution that results in right-wing-friendly reporting.

      If they gave a shit about accurate reporting, they’d ditch Fox News and their ilk. And 100% nonpartisan reporting won’t ever be a thing. They really want outlets like Breitbart and InfoWars treated as “credible sources of news” instead of “the sites of record for right-wing whackjobs and QAnon cultists”.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 11:26pm

    That judgement debt would be kept on a computer.

    Whatever judgement is levied against Politico, all they would have to do is break in the Court's computer and erase it, and that would be the end of it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2021 @ 6:13am

    Politico must be in a near orgasmic state at the opportunity to file discovery if they get sued.

    Perhaps they should write a story titled 'UAC snowflakes are too much of a pussy to actually sue us'

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

  • icon
    CharlesGlasserEsq (profile), 29 Jan 2021 @ 9:24am

    Yes but no

    You're correct that these kinds of letters are counterproductive, and indeed, I've had to deal with claims where one of my reporters asking questions (mostly investigating securities fraud) were accused of libel or interference claims. But that said, it's worth noting the concept of the First Amendment offering blanket protection for what you call "reporting" is a bit overboard. The Supreme Court has held that "generally applicable laws do not offend the First Amendment simply because their enforcement against the press has incidental effects on its ability to gather and report the news." If the ACU has transcripts of statements by reporters (rather than genuine questions) that do not conform to standards of journalism, they can most likely maintain their theoretical case and at the very least proceed to discovery. Not that I'm cheering for them to do so...

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Jan 2021 @ 10:50am

      The Supreme Court has held that "generally applicable laws do not offend the First Amendment simply because their enforcement against the press has incidental effects on its ability to gather and report the news."

      But the First Amendment is violated — in principle, anyway — when assholes use the courts as a method of shutting up journalists because the journalists asked some tough questions. Nothing the journalists did in this situation rises to the level of legally questionable, let alone unlawful. The courts don’t need to get involved. They likely won’t get involved unless an activist judge wants to “teach journalists a lesson”.

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

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 29 Jan 2021 @ 9:27am

    before then saying that his quote needed to be attributed without his name.

    Reminds me of Kellyanne Conway bagging on her husband to a reporter.

    Kellyanne: It is disrespectful, it’s a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows . . . as “a person familiar with their relationship.”

    Me: No, we’re on the record here. You can’t say after the fact “as someone familiar.”

    https://mashable.com/article/kellyanne-conway-off-the-record-washington-post/

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

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 29 Jan 2021 @ 10:18am

    Fortunately, most see this effort for what it is: "fake news."

    So, it's actual facts you moronic blowhards can't deny which pisses you off? Got it!

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

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