A New York state court has refused to dismiss Project Veritas’ defamation lawsuit against The New York Times over the newspaper’s reporting on a Veritas probe into alleged ballot-harvesting in Minneapolis.
New York Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood last week denied the newspaper’s request for a dismissal and attorneys’ fees, ruling that Project Veritas is “entitled to try to establish whether NYT’s writers were purposely and/or recklessly inaccurate.
“The facts submitted by Veritas could indicate more than standard, garden variety media bias and support a plausible inference of actual malice,” Justice Wood said in his 16-page ruling. “There is a substantial basis in law to proceed to permit the plaintiff to conduct discovery and to then attempt to meet its higher standard of proving liability through clear and convincing evidence of actual malice.”
In October, Project Veritas sued the New York Times and reporters Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu over five articles in September and October about the guerrilla journalism outfit’s investigation into alleged ballot-harvesting on behalf of Somali-American candidates, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat.
The newspaper labeled the investigation as “deceptive,” “false” and “without … verifiable evidence,” prompting Veritas to accuse NYT of publishing “false and defamatory statements impugning Veritas’ journalism” driven by resentment and political bias.
The decision by the state Supreme Court, which is a trial court, allows Project Veritas to take the depositions of relevant NYT employees, which Veritas founder and President James O’Keefe said he would record and “expose.
“This ruling means Project Veritas will now be able to put New York Times reporter Maggie Astor and New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet under oath where they will be forced to answer our questions,” Veritas said Friday in a statement. “Project Veritas will record these depositions and expose them for the world to see.”
In its motion, the newspaper defended its coverage as accurate and argued that actual malice could not be proven. In addition, the newspaper said that Veritas is “libel-proof,” meaning that its reputation is already irreparably tarnished, but the judge disagreed.
“Defendants failed to demonstrate that Veritas is a ‘classic libel-proof plaintiff’, whose reputation is so bad that it simply cannot be defamed,” the ruling stated. “That other media sources have criticized Veritas, or that Veritas may have suffered blows to its reputation, without more, fails to meet the standard.”
While the NYT articles described the Veritas video as “deceptive,” Justice Wood said that “the dictionary definitions of ‘disinformation’ and ‘deceptive’ provided by defendants’ counsel … certainly apply to Astor’s and Hsu’s failure to note that they injected their opinions in news articles, as they now claim.
“Upon review of the total context and tone of the stories, which clearly disparage Veritas and the Video, the court concludes that a reasonable reader could very well believe that the challenged statements were conveying facts about Veritas,” Justice Wood said. “The Articles certainly could be viewed as being purposely designed to appear that Defendants are imparting facts and evidence that Veritas’ videos were deceptive and Veritas is merely a right-wing political group.”
Danielle Rhoades Ha, vice president of communications for the New York Times, said the newspaper would appeal.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision,” she said in an email. “We believe our reporting played an important role in examining the kind of information that was presented to citizens about voting and voting fraud during the election. The Times intends to appeal.”
Defamation cases are notoriously difficult to prove, but Mr. O’Keefe says that Veritas “has never lost a lawsuit in our corporate history,” and takes pride in hanging retractions, corrections and clarifications from media outlets on its “Wall of Shame,” which has more than 330 entries.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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