Trump has a history of being very contentious against critics in the media, although those legal challenges have had little success. In 2020, his campaign separately sued The Washington Post and The New York Times for defamation over opinion pieces that linked the campaign to Russian election interference. (The lawsuit against The Times was dismissed, while the legal challenge against The Post is still pending.) The Trump campaign also filed a libel suit against CNN for an op-ed in 2020, which was later dismissed.
Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University who reviewed the latest lawsuit, said she saw “no legal way forward” for Trump.
“I see no misrepresentation of fact made with any real malice,” she said, adding that a “tremendous amount” of CNN’s comments described as defamatory in the lawsuit appeared to be opinions.
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In the lawsuit, Trump’s lawyers cite numerous CNN clips and articles, including a 2019 interview with singer Linda Ronstadt, who compared aspects of his presidency to the Nazi regime in Germany. The lawyers argued that Ronstadt “is a singer, not a historian” and called the interview “a pretext to repeat CNN’s message under the guise of genuine ‘reporting'”.
As a public figure, Trump must meet a higher standard to prove that CNN defamed him. His lawyers must show that CNN made false remarks about Trump that were presented as fact, and that the network had knowledge of the false remarks or a reckless disregard for the truth, a standard that has always been very difficult to meet, has said Levinson.
(Two Supreme Court justices, including Trump-appointed Neil M. Gorsuch, have previously suggested the standard needs revision.)
Trump’s attorneys argue in the lawsuit that CNN labeled Trump in a way that is “neither hyperbolic nor opinionated” and that the channel acted with “genuine animosity” to cause him “genuine harm.”
Lawyers representing the former president did not immediately return requests for comment Monday evening. A representative for CNN declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Levinson said the most likely outcome of Trump’s legal challenge is that it would be dismissed once CNN files a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. If the case goes to trial, the two sides could request evidence from each other to discuss the degree of truth behind CNN’s statements. This could ultimately be disadvantageous for Trump, she said, particularly if the statements turn out to be true.
“I think it’s really about trying to cool the rhetoric against the former president,” she said. “It is a warning shot to the media that he intends to carry out following threats of lawsuits for defamation. And for some outlets, it could ultimately put them out of business.