Trump-Appointed Judge Nixes CNN Defamation Suit

A federal judge dismissed Donald Trump’s $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN late Friday. The infamously litigious former president claimed that the network’s use of the phrase “The Big Lie” to describe his fraudulent election claims amounted to defamation by likening him to Adolf Hitler.

“Being ‘Hitler-like’ is not a verifiable statement of fact that would support a defamation claim,” U.S. District Judge Raag Singhal, who Trump appointed in 2019, wrote in his dismissal. “CNN’s statements, while repugnant, were not, as a matter of law, defamatory.”

Trump filed the suit last October in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida district where four of the five sitting judges were his own appointees. At the time, he suggested similar legal actions against other media companies were in the works. Trump had previously sued The New York Times and The Washington Post for their coverage of him.

The CNN suit alleged that the “Big Lie” phrase had been used roughly 7,700 times on the network since January 2021, and cited examples from host Jake Tapper, former commentator Chris Cillizza, and historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Trump’s lawyers also cited a 2022 documentary in which host ​​Fareed Zakaria juxtaposed some of Trump’s comments with footage of Adolf Hitler, as well as an interview in which singer Linda Ronstadt compared Trump’s America with Nazi Germany.

“The Court finds Nazi references in the political discourse (made by whichever ‘side’) to be odious and repugnant. But bad rhetoric is not defamation when it does not include false statements of fact.” Singhal wrote in his decision. “CNN’s use of the phrase ‘the Big Lie’ in connection with Trump’s election challenges does not give rise to a plausible inference that Trump advocates the persecution and genocide of Jews or any other group of people. No reasonable viewer could (or should) plausibly make that reference.”

Somewhat ironically, several months before the lawsuit was filed, then-recently hired (and now former) CNN CEO Chris Licht reportedly discouraged staff from using the phrase as part of the network’s turn to the center.

Friday’s ruling marks the second time Singhal has ruled in favor of CNN in a defamation case this year. The Florida judge also oversaw former Trump lawyer and retired Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz’s $300 million defamation suit against the network, which stemmed from CNN’s coverage of Dershowitz’s defense of Trump during his first impeachment trial. Singhal ruled in favor of the network in April.


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