Buzzfeed suffered a legal setback in a federal court in Miami on Tuesday in its attempt to fight a defamation lawsuit over its publication of the infamous, and uncorroborated, Russia “dossier” on President Donald Trump last year.
The left-leaning clickbait “news” website is being sued by Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev for defamation over allegations in the dossier. Buzzfeed tried to argue that Gubarev’s lawsuit should be considered under the high standard for public figures established by the Supreme Court under New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), in which a newspaper can only be held liable for printing false information if it showed “actual malice,” or reckless disregard for the truth, in which the publication would have had to have known in advance the information was false.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled that Gubarev is not a “public figure” for the purposes of the suit, and that his case would be considered under the lower standard of negligence applying to ordinary people, in which a publication can be found liable for defamation if it published falsehoods it did not know were false.
BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal expressed disappointment in the decision, but stressed that the media company is advancing several other legal arguments about why it was justified in its decision to publish the dossier former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele compiled about alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia.
“While we disagree with this narrow opinion, it pertains only to one defense of our decision to publish the Steele Dossier, and has no bearing on the primary rationale: that the Dossier was the subject of official action by our government, briefed to two consecutive presidents, and under active and ongoing investigation by the FBI,” Mittenthal said.
The “dossier” was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the law firm of Perkins Coie, though the expenditure was not properly reported to the Federal Elections Commission. The dossier was given to the FBI, where it triggered an investigation of the Trump campaign and was used to apply for wiretaps on Trump associates during the campaign.
None of the major allegations of the dossier has been proven, and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller has not substantiated its claims in presentations to court.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.