This is an important story. I encourage you to read the entire article. The New York Times (NYT) is being sued by James O’Keefe’s independent journalism organization, Project Veritas (PV), for defamation. A story two NYT journalists, Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu, wrote about PV’s investigation into what it claimed was a voter buying scheme in Minnesota began thusly: “A deceptive video released on Sunday by the conservative activist James O’Keefe, which claimed through unidentified sources and with no verifiable evidence that Representative Ilhan Omar’s campaign had collected ballots illegally, was probably part of a coordinated disinformation effort, according to researchers at Stanford University.”
The case will hinge on the court’s interpretation of the landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision, New York Times v. Sullivan. In that case, according to the Real Clear Politics article, the SCOTUS “established broad protections against libel lawsuits that have protected generations of journalists.” However, the article goes on to write that, “Today, the Times finds itself fending off libel lawsuits by making legal arguments that undermine the entire concept of factual reporting, and notable judges are now citing politically motivated hostility and eroding journalism standards as justification for rolling back the generous libel protections established over 50 years ago,” by the Sullivan case.
Basically, the NYT is not claiming that what Astor and Hsu wrote about the PV video was factual. Rather, they are arguing that, in the very body of an article that purports to be reporting the news, Astor and Hsu injected their opinions. Since that part of the “news” article was opinion, and opinion cannot be established as true or false, the NYT cannot be accused of defaming PV or O’Keefe. The NYT, then, is arguing that they have no obligation to distinguish factual reporting from opinion for the benefit of their readers, even in the middle of “news” story.
Judge Charles D. Wood of the New York State Supreme Court wasn’t impressed with the NYT’s argument and rejected their plea to have the suit dismissed. Woods wrote in his decision that NYT’s own policy “prohibit[s] news reporters from injecting their subjective opinions into news stories published by NYT, and thus a reasonable reader would expect a news reporter’s statements to be assertions of fact and not opinion.” As well, even though Astor and Hsu identified PV’s video as “deceptive,” of possessing “no verifiable evidence,” and was “probably part of a coordinated disinformation effort,” the reporter’s article provided no evidence to support these claims. Finally, Woods added that the Stanford researcher Astor and Hsu interviewed for the article never said the video was even “probably” part of a “coordinated disinformation effort.”
A free press is essential for a working democracy. But, a press that is free to report opinion under the guise of fact is not a free press at all. Why, one could even argue that such a press is “probably part of a coordinated disinformation effort.”
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