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On Friday, Univision formally asked a New York judge to dismiss the $500 million lawsuit that Donald Trump filed over the Spanish broadcaster’s decision to terminate a five-year, $13.5 million deal to broadcast the Miss USA pageant.
Univision decided not to move forward with Miss USA after Trump, in his June 16 presidential announcement speech, spoke about Mexican immigrants, saying, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Today, Univision tells a judge that “through his diatribe, Trump destroyed the value of those broadcast rights, and neither Trump nor Miss Universe did anything to repair the damage in the aftermath of his speech. The widespread outrage elicited by Trump’s offensive comments was especially acute for Univision’s sponsors and predominantly Hispanic viewers, who made clear that they would not patronize a business connected with Trump.”
In September, Trump sold the Miss Universe Organization to WME/IMG, but retained rights to assert claims against Univision. But even if he hadn’t held onto the right to sue Univision over the Miss USA deal, the Republican presidential candidate has also asserted a defamation claim over an Instagram post by Univision Networks president of programming and content Alberto Ciurana. The social media post was a side-by-side portrait of him and South Carolina shooter Charleston, S.C., shooter Dylann Roof.
Saying that the contents of the Instagram post represented non-actionable opinion, that to a reasonable viewer conveyed a “tongue-in-cheek observation on Trump’s appearance,” specifically his hairstyle, Univision lectures the would-be United States chief executive on how the constitution works.
“There is a rich irony to Trump’s cry that he is the target of an effort to ‘suppress [his] right to free speech,’ when it is Trump himself — a candidate for President —who is attempting to invoke the coercive power of the courts to punish a citizen’s speech,” states a memorandum to dismiss. “That is not how our democracy works. To the contrary, by announcing his noxious views on Mexican immigrants as part of his campaign platform, Trump invited vigorous debate and commentary — and he got it. The fact that Trump is too ‘thin-skinned’ to endure the kind of lampooning that has typified presidential campaigns since the founding of the Republic does not entitle him pursue a judgment and $500 million in alleged damages.”
Univision also addresses Trump’s claim that the Spanish network coerced, colluded or conspired with NBC executives. Univision calls this “far-fetched,” given NBC’s ownership of Univision rival Telemundo, and also points out the many other companies which distanced themselves from Trump after his comments about Mexican immigrants.
“There is an obvious, common-sense explanation for NBC’s decision to drop Trump that has nothing to do with Univision,” says the motion written by Univision’s attorneys at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “NBC independently decided, like many other companies, that Trump’s anti- immigrant campaign rhetoric became too toxic for its business at that time.”
Trump will have an opportunity to file his opposition to the dismissal motion, but at a conference hearing in October, his lawyers foreshadowed the counter-arguments. To the proposition that Trump frustrated the purpose of the Miss USA deal, and thus it can be voided, Trump’s lawyers argued that Univision was well aware of Trump’s colorful character when it entered into a contract yet included no morals clause. To the attempt to undercut the claim of defamation, Trump’s lawyers have responded that readers could get the impression that Ciurana was suggesting Trump was a “murderer,” a potential statement of falsity. And to doubts whether there’s enough to support a claim that Univision interfered with NBC’s Miss USA telecast, Trump’s lawyers called the timing of NBC’s decision to also back away “suspicious,” adding that discovery could yield more information about communication between the two networks.
Trump has made the $500 million lawsuit a feature in his campaign, saying that he definitely intends to collect big money from Univision.
Today, Univision points out, “Trump sought an undifferentiated $500 million in damages, even though his 2015 filings with the Federal Election Commission disclosed that the entire Miss Universe business is worth no more than $50 million.”
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