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Trump sues CNN

Trump is suing CNN, as he said he would after they refused to retract their Hitler comparisons, which they reported as fact, not opinion.

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Earlier this week, President Donald J. Trump did the one thing conservatives everywhere often wished their candidates would do. He filed a multi-million-dollar libel and defamation lawsuit against the Cable News Network (CNN). Not only that, but he demanded a trial before a jury. This case promises to be a sensation, not least because it will review, in a short interval, the canards of more than a year. Even if Trump does not prevail in the law courts, he will prevail in the court of public opinion.

The essence of Trump v. CNN

The case has a brutally simple name: Trump v. CNN. The Court Listener site has the case documents at this link, but CNAV also has decided to host it directly.

In his Introduction, Trump goes to the heart of what CNN pretends to be, and has become. Trump makes much of CNN’s motto:

The Most Trusted Name in News.

And then goes to show that the American people should not trust CNN any further than they could physically throw its headquarters.

Regular readers have all heard the canards: “racist,” “Russian lackey,” “insurrectionist,” and, of course, that famous Godwinian canard, Hitler. Godwin’s Law says: once you compare the other person to Hitler, you have ended the discussion. Now perhaps Trump’s Law will say: once you have compared anyone, even a public figure, to Hitler, he need not respect you unless and until you take it back.


Sadly, Mike Godwin, who wrote that Law, now tries to excuse comparisons to Hitler and the original Nazis. (Read it in The Washington Post if you’re a paying subscriber.) So maybe Mike Godwin should suffer the penalty his own Law prescribes.

Reporting hyperbole as actual fact

But here’s the problem. To say to a person, “You’re just like Hitler,” might be a matter of opinion, which anyone may freely express. But when one accuses another of repeating Hitler’s bad acts, that had better be true, or else it becomes libel.

This key sentence sums up the beef Trump has with CNN:

These labels are neither hyperbolic nor opinion: these are repeatedly reported as true fact, with purported factual support, by allegedly “reputable” newscasters, acting not merely with reckless disregard for the truth of their statements (sufficient to meet the definition of the legal standard for “actual malice”) but acting with real animosity for the Plaintiff and seeking to cause him true harm (the way “actual malice” commonly is understood).

Nor does Trump stop there. He cites “ideological homogeneity in the media” as grounds for a complaint even apart from actual malice. To quote the late Judge Laurence Silberman’s dissent in Tah v. Global Witness Publishing:

Ideological homogeneity in the media—or in the channels of information distribution—risks repressing certain ideas from the public consciousness just as surely as if access were restricted by the government.

Can anyone doubt that the legacy media have achieved ideological homogeneity? This has been a staple of the legacy media since shortly after the Spanish-American War. This “ideological homogeneity” affects social media, too.


Judge Silberman’s further warning

Judge Silberman also gave this warning about what the real Adolf Hitler did. The judge didn’t name Hitler here, but when CNN compares Trump to Hitler, they invite judgment by the same standard.

It should be borne in mind that the first step taken by any potential authoritarian or dictatorial regime is to gain control of communications, particularly the delivery of news. It is fair to conclude, therefore, that one-party control of the press and media is a threat to a viable democracy. It may even give rise to countervailing extremism. The First Amendment guarantees a free press to foster a vibrant trade in ideas. But a biased press can distort the marketplace. And when the media has proven its willingness—if not eagerness—to so distort, it is a profound mistake to stand by unjustified legal rules that serve only to enhance the press’ power.

“Countervailing extremism”? How about President Biden’s speech that looked like something out of the Halloween spectacles now playing in America’s amusement parks? Or—as regular readers will remember—Hitler’s own Nuremberg speech on “Party Day.” Has not the “biased press” “distort[ed] the marketplace” of ideas? So this case treats more than Trump complaining about CNN. This case is about the legacy media becoming a Department (read Ministry) of Information (i.e. Propaganda). In that light, the Submerged Voters for Trump should make this a class action.

Trump lays out the evidence

And Trump has evidence, which he reproduces from CNN’s own archives. He starts (actually in his Introduction) with PolitiFact’s ratings of the Trump as Hitler memes on CNN. Regarding this last, Trump says:

CNN has been given the dreaded “Pants on Fire!” designation by PolitiFact for its stories comparing Trump to Hitler.

PolitiFact does keep score on ABC, CBS, Fox, MSNBC, and CNN, on whether certain stories they tell are true. PolitiFact rates twenty-two percent of CNN’s stories as “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.” That’s actually a better record than those at MSNBC or Fox, so one wonders how honest PolitiFact is.

But lo and behold! Today the CNN file no longer exists! But the Wayback Machine has a copy, and indeed a file on the page, as it usually has. And what do we find?


Allen Francis, on Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources, said on August 25, 2019:

Trump is as destructive a person in this century as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were in the last century. He may be responsible for many more million deaths than they were.

To their credit, PolitiFact jumped on that comment the very next day. What was Allen Frances talking about? About deaths from climate change. Even though PolitiFact granted the climate change premise, they said that deaths from it would take forty years even to reach the low end of the people Hitler, Stalin and Mao executed, starved, or caused to be killed in combat or as collateral casualties.

Further evidence of CNN playing fast and loose with fact

The Allen Frances quote is only one example. Trump goes on to cite report after report – and undercover video of CNN staff boasting about influencing the election.

Look at what we did, we got Trump out … I am 100% going to say it. And I 100% believe it that if it wasn’t for CNN, I don’t know that Trump would have got voted out.

Behold! Not only did this employee say that CNN “did it,” but that no one could have “done it” without CNN. (Sources: Washington Examiner and Project Veritas.)

The biggest complaint is that CNN did worse than make light of Trump’s concerns about the Election of 2020. They called those expressions of concern “The Big Lie.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, now they are looking ahead to the Election of 2024. Fareed Zakaria wrote, in January 2022, about “what it will take to save American democracy.” He starts with several discussions of changes in European politics. Much of what he says along that line constitutes wishful thinking on his part. But regarding American elections, he says:


If … Trump runs, wins the nomination, and it’s a close election – we will almost certainly face a constitutional crisis. More worrying, given the changes to election procedures, we will likely face this kind of contestation after every close election in America moving forward. The basic legitimacy of the American electoral system has been eroded.

What changes? Changes to make American elections more secure, not less.

And people actually believe it of Trump

Trump’s biggest point is that people actually believe such canards about him – and about everyone who voted for him. The complaint has this Twitter link to Fareed Zakaria’s promotional video.

The replies he got, are a direct measure of the bad effect.

And why did CNN bring out Linda Ronstadt to make another Trump and Hitler comparison? What does she know about the Second World War, anyway?

Then we have Jim Acosta going down the same road:


The complaint substantiates all this with hyperlinks in the footnotes – too many to list here. CNAV would advise people to remember that if they find any of those links broken, they should visit the Wayback Machine.

As the law requires, Trump showed that he asked CNN to retract this negative coverage. (CNAV covered that at the time.) On July 29, 2022, CNN wrote back and essentially said, “Sue us; we dare you.” Trump took the dare.

Trump also showed, from another case (State of Tennessee v. Guinn), that Hitler comparisons become defamation per se when someone applies them to a public official.

Toward the end of his complaint, Trump accuses CNN of selective application of their standards. Specifically, they gave a pass to:

  1. Stacey Abrams, in her complaint against Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.), and
  2. Hillary Clinton and a long list of allies challenging the Election of 2016.

Selective application of law, or any rule or standard, is itself a malicious attitude.

Are other media just as bad?

Reportage on this story comes from Axios, which supplied the link to the complaint, and CBS and Sky News. Axios expressed the usual skepticism that any public figure can win a defamation lawsuit. They cite New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which sets the actual malice standard. In that case the Supreme Court held:


To sustain a claim of defamation or libel, the First Amendment requires that the plaintiff show that the defendant knew that a statement was false or was reckless in deciding to publish the information without investigating whether it was accurate.

CNAV mentions CBS’ coverage only to condemn it for failing to provide any further perspective, as Axios at least did. Sky News similarly covered this case only superficially, then saw fit to list a litany of civil actions against Trump, and criminal investigations – including the infamous Trump Raid.

In filing this action against CNN, Trump never said CNN would be his only target. In fact he said they were his first target, according to Conservative Research Group. That alternative newsletter also cited young Nick Sandmann’s successful lawsuits against CNN and NBC. Those cases never went to trial – because the outlets settled out of court.

To save the republic

This case will likely go to trial – before a jury, as Trump demanded. That jury will have the opportunity to save, not democracy, but the republic. Remember: democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner. Democracy is also unstable, and leads to oligarchy. “Dictators” are non-hereditary monarchs, and like all monarchs, must answer to wealthy and powerful backers. This was true even in Philip Lee Ralph’s vaunted “Age of Absolutism” when European monarchs enjoyed a support of their oligarchs no monarch has ever held since. And it is especially true today, of a President who has let slip that he is not in charge.

But the republic is a system of law. Enough of that law is immutable and un-amendable to protect the lamb from the wolf pack.

The attacks on Trump that he cited in his complaint, are actually attacks on those of us who value life, liberty and property. Remember: Allen Francis accused Trump of killing more people than Hitler, Stalin and Mao combined. But Frances said Trump did this by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and thwarting efforts to deprive people of property, liberty, and even life without any semblance of due process of law. That is CNN’s quarrel: that they want to destroy the Republic, and Trump wouldn’t let them. Trump has said before:


They are not attacking me; they are attacking you. I’m just in their way.

How right he is.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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