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On Tuesday, U.S. District judge Victor Marrero denied an early attempt at victory from journalist Michael Leidig and the Central European News, suing Buzzfeed for $11 million over an article headlined “The King of Bullsh*t News.” The New York federal judge ruled that it would be “premature” to give Leidig a summary judgment win at this juncture and wants the parties to engage in further discovery.
Leidig filed the lawsuit in January 2016, claiming he was damaged by an Aug. 24, 2015, article about his news agency that circulated odd stories like a Russian fisherman saved from a bear attack by a Justin Bieber ringtone. The subtitle on the piece was, “How a small British news agency and its founder fill your Facebook feed with stories that are wonderful, wacky — and often wrong.”
Buzzfeed’s article — and the lawsuit — happened before Donald Trump popularized the notion of “fake news.”
In the present case, Leidig jumped pretty quickly to a summary judgment motion, relying upon a sworn declaration where he stated he never created or knowingly published a fake news story while asking the judge to hold that BuzzFeed libeled him as a fraudster as a matter of law.
Buzzfeed’s reaction was basically, not so fast, let us explore the truth.
Marrero agrees, writing in Tuesday’s ruling that Leidig and his news agency “have not met their burden to show the absence of any genuine dispute as to material facts,” and at this point, “there is little to no relevant evidence upon which Plaintiffs have relied in support of their Motion.”
“With respect to falsity,” the judge continues, “the Motion and supporting papers consist mainly of Plaintiffs insisting upon a tautology that … conveys no other than Plaintiff’s reason: The Article is false because it is false.”
The judge then gets cute by footnoting a Shakespeare quote from Two Gentlemen of Verona — “Then thus: of many good I think him best. I have no other, but a woman’s reason; I think him so because I think him so.”
Finally, Marrero refuses Leidig’s attempt to have himself declared a private figure for the purposes of establishing fault. The judge writes “many factual questions remain, including regarding Plaintiffs’ influence and reach, Leidig’s book Buzz Bottom Feeders potentially written about this controversy, and Plaintiffs’ other potential responses to this litigation.”
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