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'Actual malice': Judge rules against NY Times in Veritas case

FPI / March 25, 2021

The New York Times "acted with actual malice" and "reckless disregard" when two of its reporters passed off opinions as fact in several articles critical of Project Veritas, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled last week.

In articles from 2020 about Project Veritas videos, NY Times writers Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu inserted sentences that were opinions despite the articles being billed as news, New York Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood said.

"The facts submitted by Veritas could indicate more than standard, garden variety media bias and support a plausible inference of actual malice," Wood wrote in his ruling last week. "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."

Former President Donald Trump saluted the ruling: "I want to congratulate Project Veritas on their big win on the New York Times. Now the suit will continue and whatever you can do for their legal defense fund, we're with them all the way. They do incredible work, they find things nobody would even believe possible. So James, congratulations."

Wood wrote in a 16-page decision denying the paper’s request to dismiss a lawsuit from Project Veritas: “If a writer interjects an opinion in a news article (and will seek to claim legal protections as opinion) it stands to reason that the writer should have an obligation to alert the reader, including a court that may need to determine whether it is fact or opinion, that it is opinion.”

“The Articles that are the subject of this action called the video ‘deceptive,’ but 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,” the judge added.

Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe tweeted: "Our attorneys confirmed this is the only case they are aware of where NYT lost on Motion to Dismiss without appeal since 1965, AND the FIRST CASE EVER where NYT lost under NY’s new Anti-SLAPP laws enacted last year. We’re making history folks."

At issue are five New York Times articles that Project Veritas alleges contained false and defamatory information. All five articles were about a 2020 video report from the Project Veritas on alleged illegal voting practices in Minnesota.

In one of Astor’s articles, she wrote: “Mr. O’Keefe and Project Veritas have a long history of releasing manipulated or selectively edited footage purporting to show illegal conduct by Democrats and liberal groups.” The source of the statement, and whether it is fact or opinion, is not clear, according to the judge.

Hsu, meanwhile, wrote in part that conservative publications “magnified the reach of a deceptive video released last month by Project Veritas, a group run by the conservative activist O’Keefe,” adding: “The video claimed without named sources or verifiable evidence that the campaign for Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, was collecting ballots illegally.”

Judge Wood wrote in his decision: “Stating that the video is ‘deceptive’ and stating ‘without verifiable evidence’ in a factual way in a news article certainly presents the statement as fact, not opinion. Further, the Astor and Hsu Articles could be viewed as exposing Veritas to ridicule and harm to its reputation as a media source because the reader may read these news Articles, expecting facts, not opinion, and conclude that Veritas is a partisan zealot group, deceptively editing video, and presenting it as news.”

“The facts submitted by Veritas could indicate more than standard, garden variety media bias and support a plausible inference of actual malice,” the judge wrote.

Zero Hedge noted: "What the Times did is similar to countless hit-pieces against Zero Hedge and others; using broad, unsupported brush strokes to slander their ideological opponents. We can only hope this sets new precedent for future defamation cases."

Project Veritas Media Relations Manager Mario Balaban told Fox News that O'Keefe was "very pleased" to have met Trump and "even more pleased" when the former president plugged the group's legal defense fund "so that more lawsuits can be filed in the future against dishonest media outlets."

"They're now being forced to tell the truth under oath," Balaban said.

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