On 3 October 2022, President Trump filed a complaint against CNN, requesting “punitive damages in the amount of $475,000,000.00”. Whilst there is no specific explanation of how this figure was calculated, a highly generalized comment is included in the footnote:
CNN’s estimated profit for 2022 is $950M … a significant portion of which was generated by maligning the Plaintiff. This action seeks $475,000,000.00 in punitive damages—just six months of CNN’s illicit profits. Any lesser amount would not serve as a deterrent and would, instead, allow CNN to continue to profit from its tortious conduct.
The document is 29 pages long in 75 paragraphs and reads like a middle finger at CNN and, by extension in principle even though not legally, the lamestream media. It’s a laugh riot for those who are interested in reading legal complaints.
A few paragraphs are reproduced below. Please note that paragraph numbers are provided without implying the paragraph is quoted in its entirety in all instances.
In cases against the press, there is the understandable concern regarding the First Amendment. The complaint addresses this from a different angle, quoting the late Judge Silberman:
3. It should be borne in mind that the first step taken by any potential authoritarian or dictatorial regime is to gain control of communications, particularly the delivery of news. It is fair to conclude, therefore, that one-party control of the press and media is a threat to a viable democracy. It may even give rise to countervailing extremism. The First Amendment guarantees a free press to foster a vibrant trade in ideas. But a biased press can distort the marketplace. And when the media has proven its willingness—if not eagerness—to so distort, it is a profound mistake to stand by unjustified legal rules that serve only to enhance the press’ power.
It should be noted that CNN was asked to retract its defamatory statements but refused in July 2022.
Over 10 pages of the document highlight the efforts of CNN to associate Trump with Hitler. (A few examples are provided in the complaint.)
15. Most notably, and, the subject of this complaint, is CNN’s persistent association of the Plaintiff to Adolf Hitler and Nazism. When labels like “racist,” “Russian lackey,” and “insurrectionist” did not have the desired effect to undermine the Plaintiff’s candidacy when running for President or the Plaintiff’s accomplishments as President, CNN upped the stakes to conjure associations between the Plaintiff and arguably the most heinous figure in modern history. CNN’s persistent use of ever-increasing defamatory characterizations of the Plaintiff up to and including comparing him to Hitler and Nazism demonstrates that it published its defamatory statements about the Plaintiff with actual malice.
The use of celebrities for “reporting” is probably one of the funnier ones:
19b. On December 31, 2019, CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed singer Linda Ronstadt on her views of the Plaintiff and her “comparisons between America under the leadership of President Donald Trump and Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.” No matter how lovely a voice she may have, Ronstadt is a singer, not a historian. The interview is merely a pretext to repeat CNN’s message under the guise of real “reporting.” More problematic is the use of celebrities to propagate CNN’s message.
20. A search across a news database for instances in which “Trump” appears within 10 words of “Hitler” or “Nazi” in CNN broadcasts since November 2016 produces at least 645 results.
More specifically in reference to the term “Big Lie” used by Hitler:
26. On June 15, 2022, CNN’s new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chris Licht reportedly held a conference call with top CNN producers in which he expressed displeasure with the use of “Big Lie.”29 Since then, CNN’s on-air personalities—including John King, Jake Tapper, John Avlon, Brianna Keilar, and Don Lemon, among others—have continued to use the phrase in describing the Plaintiff and the Plaintiff’s questions of election integrity despite an apparent admonition from their Chief Executive Officer.
27. Reportedly, the term “Big Lie” has been used in reference to the Plaintiff more than 7,700 times on CNN since January of 2021.
As examples of CNN’s inconsistency, the document cites Stacy Abrams’s claim that the 2018 governor’s election was stolen from her and, of course, the Democrats’ claim regarding the 2016 presidential election:
33. CNN has not referred to Stacy Abrams as lying or perpetuating a “Big Lie,” even in the absence of data supporting her claims of a rigged election. Instead, CNN recognized challenges to election integrity as valid and credible when addressed through a different political lens.
34. Going back further, to 2016, CNN also failed to challenge Democrats who gave numerous televised statements claiming the 2016 presidential election was illegitimate. This included suggestions that Russian interference caused the Plaintiff to win and regular references to the Plaintiff being an “illegitimate” president. CNN repeatedly allowed for assertions that the Plaintiff was illegitimately elected largely to go unchallenged, including statements made by Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Nadler, John Lewis, Dianne Feinstein, Marcia Fudge, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. None of these individuals who challenged the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election were accused of propagating a “Big Lie” or even of lying.
To sum up, for both Count I – Defamation Per Se and Count II – Defamation:
39. & 59. CNN has acknowledged that the term the “Big Lie” is a direct reference to Adolf Hitler and Nazism and uses the term in relation to the Plaintiff to create a false and incendiary association between the Plaintiff and Hitler.
41. & 61. These defamatory statements, which associate the Plaintiff’s character with that of Hitler, are reasonably understood to be statements of fact (as opposed to hyperbole or mere opinion) regarding the Plaintiff and were reasonably understood by readers and viewers to be statements of fact (and not hyperbole or mere opinion): readers and viewers understood that the Plaintiff would be Hitler-like in any future political role.
53. & 71. These defamatory statements have been repeated and republished in other media outlets, which was reasonably foreseeable because CNN is a national news organization with a broad national and international audience. At the time these statements were published, CNN knew they would be republished and disseminated to other and larger audiences.
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