Trump Campaign Sues Another Publisher Over Op-Ed Coverage

Latest defamation suit targets The Washington Post

The president has previously invoked The Washington Post in his "fake news" rhetoric. - Credit by Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images
Headshot of Sara Jerde

Key insight:

Nearly a week after the campaign to reelect President Trump filed a defamation lawsuit against The New York Times, his lawyers are taking another media organization to court.

This time, the reelection campaign is filing a complaint against The Washington Post over what it claims are “false and defamatory” statements published in op-eds.

Similar to the lawsuit against the Times, the Post complaint references opinion-based pieces: “Trump just invited another Russian attack. Mitch McConnell is making one more likely,” and “Trump: I can win reelection with just my base.” Each was published in June 2019 on The Plum Line, the opinion blog run by writers Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman.

“The statements were and are 100% false and defamatory,” said Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to Donald J. Trump for President Inc., in a statement. “The complaint alleges The Post was aware of the falsity at the time it published them, but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process.”

“It’s disappointing to see the President’s campaign committee resorting to these types of tactics and we will vigorously defend this case,” said Kris Coratti, spokeswoman for The Washington Post, in a statement.

The complaint—widely distributed by the Trump campaign and intended to be filed in a Washington, D.C. district court—seeks compensatory damages in the millions of dollars as well as legal fees.

“The articles at issue herein also are part of the Post’s systematic pattern of bias against the campaign, designed to maliciously interfere with and damage its reputation and ultimately cause the organization to fail,” according to the complaint.

This lawsuit is the latest attempt by the Trump campaign to turn a critical lens on The Post, which the president has often invoked in his rhetoric against so-called “fake news.”

It also comes as the campaign seems to have an ally in Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas. The deeply conservative justice filed a brief on Feb. 19 calling on the court to revisit the 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan decision, which set the bar for libel at “actual malice” when it comes to public figures. The ruling, which cited the First Amendment among the supporting reasons for establishing the standard, has allowed the press to criticize politicians (among other public figures).

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.