Free Speech

Trump Campaign Sues TV Station for Running 'Defamatory' Coronavirus Attack Ad

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of frivolous suits the president's reelection campaign has filed against media outlets.

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Donald Trump's reelection campaign has sued a Wisconsin TV station for running a political ad attacking the president's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Priorities USA, a political action committee that supports Democratic candidate Joe Biden, produced the ad. It uses sound bites from Trump's press conferences—"the coronavirus, this is their new hoax," "we have it totally under control," "we've done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum"—played over a chart showing the precipitous rise in the number of Americans infected with the virus.

Today the Trump campaign filed a defamation lawsuit in Wisconsin state court against WJFW, an NBC affiliate in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, claiming the Priorities USA ad contained "intentionally false and defamatory statements."

"It is disappointing that WJFW-NBC would knowingly continue to broadcast this blatantly false ad and perpetuate falsehoods on the American people, even after the Trump campaign provided proof in good faith of the ad's falsity," Jenna Ellis, a senior adviser for Trump's reelection campaign, said in a statement. "We fully expected the station would recognize their error and immediately cease under their FCC [Federal Communications Commission] obligations. The Trump campaign is now left with no other option than to use the force of law to ensure these false and defamatory ads cease. Defamation law helps ensure that news outlets are accountable to viewers, who should be able trust [sic] the accuracy and truth of content aired to the public."

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of defamation suits filed by the Trump campaign against media outlets. In February, it sued The New York Times, followed by another suit against the Washington Post in March. Both of those defamation claims concerned opinion pieces about the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with Russia.

A Washington Post fact-checker concluded last month that the Priorities USA ad deceptively edits Trump's "hoax" comment, which was in the middle of a longer rant about Democrats' claim that his administration was doing nothing to halt the spread of the virus. 

The Trump campaign previously threatened television stations in March, warning in cease-and-desist letters that they could have their broadcast licenses yanked for running the commercial.

Running the ad "could put your station's license in jeopardy," the campaign told the stations. "Your station has an obligation to cease and desist from airing it immediately to comply with FCC licensing requirements."

As Bloomberg reported last month, the threats were almost certainly bluster:

The FCC doesn't appear to have grounds to act against the stations for airing contentious ads, said Jack Goodman, a Washington broadcast attorney, said in an interview. The ad "is core political speech" protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech, Goodman said.

"This is the sort of letter that stations get in political years, day in and day out," Goodman said. "It's intended to intimidate."

Trump has declared many times that libel laws should be "opened up" to remove the strong protections that news outlets have enjoyed from defamation lawsuits since the landmark 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan.

Trump and his proxies likely have little to no intention of fully pursuing these suits in court, which would open the president up to discovery—a prospect The New York Times gleefully noted when threatened by Trump in the past.

But that doesn't mean that they won't have an effect. "The concern here is not that one of these suits would win on the merits—it's the chilling effect that it has on public discussion of political affairs," Columbia Journalism Review correspondent Jonathan Peters told The Hill.

These efforts are ham-fisted attempts to use the threat of legal action to punish the president's critics and to show his base that he fights the Fake News. There's a term for this tactic: "strategic lawsuit against public participation," or SLAPP. 

There are less cumbersome words that also apply. Such as "bullying."

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  1. Defamation is defamation.

    Or we can go to where no 1A rights can be violated for any reason.

    The state cannot infringe on any worship right. There can be no law against “terrorist threats”, no regulation of the internet, nor force used to have kids attend public school. Peaceful assembly (even with guns) cannot be regulated or stopped. Lawsuits against government cannot be stopped even during KungFlu hysteria (the courts shall remain open and hearing cases).

    1. The media is full of liars and defamers of character.

      1. Ya think?

        1. Trump is the most obvious and flagrant liar around.

          1. What do you mean? He said they had it under control, and the death rate went from 2 million to 60,000.
            Time for bonus checks!

          2. Citations would helpful to support ypur claim.

    2. I can never get a clear read on what the libertarian position is on defamation law. Reason always seem to skew the coverage to be as anti-Trump as possible, but it seems at heart their objection is to defamation law.

      Are libertarians just against the entire concept of defamation?

      1. I find the libertarian position on lawsuits and defamation obfuscated.
        If lawsuits are bad. how do you stop people bullshitting or publishing lies about you? Pistols at dawn?

      2. One view is that a person doesn’t have some basic human right to a certain reputation, so defamation isn’t really a tort. Not sure I agree 100% though.

        1. Technically a good reputation is a privilege

      3. A good reputation is something you own and has value.

        People lying about you which destroys that good reputation has caused harm.

        I personally dont put much in things said without proof but the schools are so bad that many Americans believe stupid shit like this Kingflu hysteria. Otherwise defamation would not the impact that it can with Sheeple.

        Libertarianism is very dependent on us all playing the same basic rules and having the same basic understanding of those fundamentals. Lefties have spent decades destroying the fundamentals, so we are not all playing by the same fundamentals.

        Lefties are okay with lying and use it as a weapon. If lying is okay then we are not playing by the same rules.

  2. It’s just a publicity stunt. Reporting on this is basically giving him free advertising.

    The California Dairy Board used to run a commercial which said, “Great milk comes from happy cows, and happy cows come from California”. PETA sued them for false advertising claiming that California’s cows weren’t really happy. The point wasn’t to win the lawsuit. The point was to get journalists everywhere to put PETA’s name in the headlines. It was basically free advertising, and practically every news outlet in California was covering it at the time.

    This is like that. Candidate Trump won in 2016 by trolling the media, constantly, and getting all that free advertising. He hardly spent any money at all. If there’s anything really interesting in this story, it’s about the present opinion of the American people regarding the media. To put it mildly, the American people hate the news media. In an election year, you want to run against whomever the voters hate most, and there’s hardly anyone the American people hate more than the news media.

    Last Gallup poll I saw showed that 77% of independents had a negative opinion of the news media. The reason the Trump campaign can get away with making a mockery of the news media with a lawsuit like this is because the news media is so widely hated by the people who might defend them. No doubt, Trump shouldn’t be suing journalists like this, but if he feels like he can get away with that (even profit from it at the polls), journalists everywhere should be asking themselves why. Why do the American people hate journalists right now so much?

    1. Running the ad “could put your station’s license in jeopardy,” the campaign told the stations. “Your station has an obligation to cease and desist from airing it immediately to comply with FCC licensing requirements.”

      Did PETA use threats of government regulatory force or just file a stupid lawsuit? Cause this sounds more like the mafia to me – It be a shame if some thugs came around and destroyed your store.

      1. In 2016, they used to say that Trump’s critics took him literally without taking him seriously, where Trump’s supporters took him seriously without taking him literally.

        If it’s come to the point where you can’t read what other people write and take it seriously unless they’re taking everything the Trump administration say literally, then there’s really no point in discussing this or anything else.

        This is a stunt. That’s what it is. If you want to carry water for the Trump campaign, go around and tell everyone you know that President Trump is taking away broadcasting licenses from stations that are critical of him–but if you really want to help President Trump get reelected that bad, why not just volunteer to go door to door for the Trump campaign or send them your money instead? That way, you don’t have to make yourself look so silly.

    2. There’s no such thing as bad advertising. “Banned In Boston” was the clickbait of its time in the publishing world.

      1. Yeah, that’s basically it.

        If Joe Biden could entice the media to hate him and denounce him constantly, his chances of winning in November would probably improve.

  3. He’s just jealous of the frivolous impeachment. No one ever said Trump was a deep thinker, well, except for all the Trumpistas bragging about his 36DD chess.

    1. > his 36DD ches[t]

      Those moobs are to kill for!

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  5. > “intentionally false and defamatory statements.”

    Except they’re the president’s own words. And since the president speaks in sound bites, they’re not even out of context because they never had a context to live in.

    Also, does the president not realize that this is a democracy and people other than him are allowed to run for office? Legally?

    1. Even if they are your words, presenting them in a defamatory context, while insisting the portrayal is factually accurate, still makes them actionable as defamation.

      There is nothing crazy about this. It is standard defamation law.

      1. Look, we’ve discussed this before. Just as with the previous bumptious threats, it’s not Trump suing, it’s the Trump campaign that’s suing. Whether or not Trump was defamed has absolutely nothing to do with this from a legal standpoint because you simply cannot sue on behalf of somebody else, you have no standing to sue and standing is one of the very first things the court looks at. So why is the campaign suing rather than Trump himself suing? Because Trump knows full well this is an entirely bogus suit and he ain’t stupid enough to spend his own money pursuing it – his campaign is free to pursue it because they fully intend to claim the expenses as a legitimate campaign expenditure if anybody ever thinks to ask about where the money’s coming from to fund the suit. Despite Trump’s belief that his campaign war chest is “his” money to spend as he pleases, it’s really not. There are rules about what you’re allowed to charge as a campaign expenditure* and I can assure you if nothing else, this can be written off as a publicity expense for the campaign.

        *Well, theoretically at least, even if in practice you’re allowed to pay your wife a $185,000 salary as your campaign’s head of media coordination, write off your haircuts and your shoe shines and your restaurant bills and your hush money paid to side pieces whom you’ve had affairs with, basically do whatever you please with the money as long as nobody wants to go digging into the receipts.

        1. Right, because a corporation cannot sue a disgruntled customer for disseminating damaging bullshit about its CEO in a manner that, by logical necessity, impugns the reputation of the entire company.

          Before you start lecturing people about “standing,” a term I am confident you do not understand, consider that some people here actually practice and understand the law far better than you do.

          1. The law is whatever the Trumptatorship says that it is!!!

            Gasbag Blowhard,
            Please listen!
            You don’t know,
            What you’re missing!
            Donald’s ass, don’t be kissin’!
            Trump won’t love you,
            He’ll push and shove you!
            He’ll take your vote,
            Then call you a goat!
            He’ll tax your money,
            Then steal your Honey!
            Your pussy, He will grab,
            Your back, He will stab!
            His-victims-routines, He’s iterating,
            Shit about YOU, He’ll be Twitterating!

            THIS is also a central lesson to be learned here!!! So many of us fantasize that our support of those who we think is (or will be) the “winner” will earn us the support of the “winners” and their spoils.
            See “the night of the long knives” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Long_Knives… Ernst Röhm (head brownshirt, street brawler, for Hitler) thought his support of Hitler would leave him sitting pretty. So sorry, Ernst Röhm, Hitler had another thing coming for you…
            Right here on Reason.com comments, we see the same thing. The “brownshirts” of the commentary (Shitsy Shitler, JesseSPAZ, Nards, Geraje Guzba) try to brownshirt their enemies off of the comments board, tell their enemies to commit suicide, and other “street fighting”. They, I suspect, expect payback (war spoils) from “winning” Orange Hitler, just as Ernst Röhm did from “winning” Hitler.
            They and their ilk, too, have another thing coming… Orange Hitler will throw them under the bus, the VERY first instant that Orange Hitler finds it to be convenient to Him… Just as Shitler-Hitler threw Ernst Röhm under the bus!

            1. Read the fucking caption, retard. You’re overdue for your second stroke. Hopefully this one shrinks your dick and blinds you in one eye.

              1. Der TrumpfenFuhrer makes accusations, therefor they must be true? Talk about TDS!!!

    2. they’re not even out of context because they never had a context to live in.

      Brandybuck’s true beliefs shining through. Most mortals’ speech has context imposed on it by other people and reality whether they like it or not. But in BB’s world, Trump’s speech generates both meaning and context as the words come out of his mouth. Every Tweet is BB’s own, personal “Let there be light.”

  6. A television station that lives under the thumb of the FCC arguing it’s “just free speech”… Ha.

    That would be like a 501(c)3 claiming they can do/say whatever they want because of the 1st Amendment. Yeah… right.

  7. I don’t care about the lawsuit but it bothers me that incumbents are allowed to campaign while on the taxpayer dime.

    1. Are they supposed to clock out?

      1. They should all be part time legislators, even in Congress, so yeah they should clock out to campaign.

  8. Can you also do a story on the number of frivolous lawsuits that have been filed against POTUS, the members of his team, his Executive Orders, and his campaign? Maybe I’m wrong but I think a lot of folks would like to see the other side as well.

    1. This is unreason. They do shit like that.

      unreason also considered many of those lawsuits not frivolous at all. He is Hiteler after all.

  9. “A Washington Post fact-checker concluded last month that the Priorities USA ad deceptively edits Trump’s “hoax” comment, which was in the middle of a longer rant about Democrats’ claim that his administration was doing nothing to halt the spread of the virus. ”

    LOL, the Washington Post are a bunch of cucks, spreading pro-Trump propaganda because they’re intimidated from Trump suing them.

    /sarc

  10. It’s really sad to see that more people want State Intervention on the Media while a State Controlling Media lead to a Global Pandemic

  11. I must agree that the lawsuit is frivolous and will never to discovery, it would be nice to think that it might slow down negative advertising. Negative advertisements never really add value to the political discussion and I for one would not miss them.

  12. Except there are so many instances of clear and outright lies going around that I’m sorry, something has to be done. I mean clear, obvious fake news that no one has any rational argument to say otherwise and pretty obviously passes the “actual malice” test.

    1. tho first it still needs to pass the Actual Damages test

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