CNN Wins Dershowitz Defamation Lawsuit
WASHINGTON — CNN won Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz filed against the television network for its criticism of his commentaries about then-President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
The CNN broadcast could lead viewers to conclude Dershowitz was saying Trump was privileged to break the law to get elected if he believed he was acting in the public interest, according to the lawsuit.
CNN commentators said Dershowitz “lost his mind” and called him “Dershow-nuts.”
Dershowitz sued for $300 million but a Florida federal judge ruled CNN was acting within its First Amendment rights of free speech.
U.S. District Judge Raag Singhal granted CNN summary judgment while saying in his written order that Dershowitz failed to prove the network acted recklessly or with actual malice, which is part of the evidence required to win a defamation claim.
“The evidence before the court — while establishing foolishness, apathy, and an inability to string together a series of common legal principles — does not establish actual malice under the Sullivan standard,” the judge wrote.
The Sullivan standard refers to the 1964 Supreme Court case of New York Times v. Sullivan. It says that public figures can recover damages for defamation only by proving a statement was made with actual malice, which the Supreme Court defined as “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”
Although CNN won in the lawsuit, the judge added that CNN and other news outlets took Dershowitz’s statements out of context, “blurring of the distinction between ‘news’ and ‘commentary.’”
CNN called on Dershowitz to provide legal analysis of the first impeachment trial by Congress of Trump. He was accused of soliciting foreign assistance in the 2020 presidential election and then obstructing the congressional inquiry by telling the officials he appointed to ignore subpoenas.
Congressional investigators said Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine, the release of the funds being contingent on whether its president would announce an investigation into Joe Biden for his son’s financial dealings with Ukrainian business interests.
Congress impeached Trump a second time for encouraging the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building.
At one point during an interview, Dershowitz said, “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
Quid pro quo is a legal term that means a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something else.
In Trump’s case, the quid pro quo was supposed to be foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for revealing embarrassing allegations against Biden.
Dershowitz said CNN edited out his comments that would have given better context to his legal analysis.
Some CNN reporters called his remarks the “Dershowitz Doctrine.” He said CNN hurt his reputation and diminished his chances of appearing on other news networks.
CNN’s “deliberately false narrative spread like a disease,” as other media outlets replayed the television clips, leading national talk show hosts to mock the “Dershowitz Doctrine,” the law professor’s lawsuit says.
Judge Singhal said Dershowitz provided “no proof” that CNN’s commentators and producers knew they were saying anything false.
“They believed the clips as presented were fair and accurate,” the judge wrote. “Dershowitz has not produced any evidence to contradict this.”
He also said the First Amendment does not require news outlets to report everything a commentator says.
The case is Alan Dershowitz v. Cable News Network Inc., case number 0:20-cv-61872, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.