35 mainstream news organizations contest ruling allowing Rep. Devin Nunes to sue reporter

Attorneys for 35 news organizations asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to reconsider a ruling that allowed Rep. Devin Nunes to sue a reporter and a magazine over as social media post that linked to a 2018 story about an Iowa farm owned by the congressman’s family.

The news organizations are following the lead of attorneys for the reporter, Ryan Lizza, and the magazine’s parent company, Hearst, who filed a motion this month to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals asking to hear their case in front of a full panel of judges. Nunes sued Lizza and Hearst in September 2019 in the Northern District Court of Iowa, claiming an article that suggested his family’s farm relied on undocumented labor defamed him.

A federal judge in August 2020 dismissed Nunes’ lawsuit against Hearst, finding Lizza’s story did not defame the congressman. A panel of three judges from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in September agreed that the story did not defame Nunes. But the panel handed down a ruling that allows Nunes to sue Lizza over the social media post.

Attorneys for the news organizations wrote that the panel’s ruling differs from previous law which establishes that hyperlinking is not a form of republication and that an individual’s denial of truth prior to publication does not mean that the publisher produced a story with “actual malice.” Public figures like Nunes have to prove that stories are published with actual malice in defamation suits.

Lizza, who now works for Politico, declined to comment. Lizza’s attorneys wrote in their motion for a rehearing that the court recently came to an opposite decision in a similar case, and that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent for the First Amendment.

The 35 organizations that are a part of the brief include: Advance Publications, Inc.; American Public Media Group; the Associated Press; The Atlantic Monthly Group LLC; Bloomberg LP; BuzzFeed, Inc.; Art Cullen; The Daily Beast LLC; Dow Jones & Company, Inc.; Foundation for National Progress; Fox News Network, LLC; Gannett Co., Inc.; Michael Gartner; Gray Television, Inc.; Herald Publishing Company; Insider, Inc.; Iowa Capital Dispatch; The Iowa Freedom of Information Council; Lake Avenue Publishing; Los Angeles Times Communications LLC; The Media Law Resource Center, Inc.; The New York Times Company; Penske Media Corporation; POLITICO, LLC; Pro Publica, Inc.; The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Reuters News & Media Inc.; Star Tribune Media Company LLC; The Storm Lake Times Company; Herb Strentz; Student Publications, Inc.; Substack, Inc.; Univision Communications Inc.; Vice Media LLC; and Vox Media, LLC [Sacramento Bee].



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