CNN has lost its effort to have a defamation lawsuit dropped. The suit, brought by famed Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, was upheld by a federal judge.
CNN had selectively edited remarks made by Dershowitz to the Senate during former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial. U.S. District Judge Raag Singhal wrote in his 22-page ruling that the clip aired “is not accurate, to the extent that it omitted a crucial qualification: that an illegal motive for a quid pro quo would be corrupt,” a Trump nominee, .
At issue is a Jan. 29, 2020, broadcast on CNN which featured hosts employed by the network, as well as panel guests—including other CNN employees—discussing arguments made that day during Trump’s impeachment trial.
While Dershowitz spoke for more than five minutes to answer a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on whether “quid pro quo” arrangements are used often in foreign policy, CNN focused on a single sentence from his answer before claiming that the law professor was arguing that a president could do anything, including illegal acts, if he believed his re-election was in the public interest.
But Dershowitz stated in another portion of the answer that “the only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were somehow illegal.”
CNN attempted “to falsely paint Professor Dershowitz as a constitutional scholar and intellectual who had lost his mind,” Dershowitz stated in his $300 million defamation lawsuit.
In its now failed motion to dismiss, CNN attorneys stated that “Dershowitz’s disagreement with CNN about the meaning the words he spoke on the Senate floor is just the type of political debate involving matters of profound national importance that is central to the American values of self-governance; it is not grounds for a defamation lawsuit.”
Dershowitz panned the motion as an attempt to skip a trial, arguing the broadcaster “is essentially making a pitch for this Court to be the jury and decide the case on the merits right away.”
At its base, CNN and its paid commentators falsely told an audience of millions of people that Dershowitz went before the Senate and told members “that an American President can commit crimes and be immune from impeachment so long as the president believed his reelection was in the public interest while he was committing the crimes,” he wrote in a reply to the motion.
“The complaint alleges that CNN and all of the commentators knowingly lied when they said this and that they knew they were lying when they said it. If the evidence proves plaintiff’s allegation, then each commentator committed unlawful defamation and CNN is both vicariously and primarily liable for damages. It really is that simple,” Dershowitz said.
Singhal agreed with Dershowitz.
Because CNN’s abridged version of Dershowitz’s remarks omitted a crucial qualification, its commentators’ statements “are not based upon a fair and accurate summary of Dershowitz’ statement to the Senate,” Singhal said.
CNN, which has lost over 60% of its viewers since inauguration day, has lost several high-profile lawsuits over the last two years. The most notable was the suit brought by a Catholic high schools student who said the network purposely defamed him, causing death threats on social media.
CNN has settled two lawsuits that sought over $500 million in damages.