U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

BuzzFeed receives first subpoena in ongoing Unsworth-Musk defamation lawsuit

Incident Details

Date of Incident
June 14, 2019
BuzzFeed News

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue

A portion of the first subpoena BuzzFeed received as part of a defamation case between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the caver Vernon Unsworth.

— Screenshot
June 14, 2019

BuzzFeed News was issued its first subpoena in the unfolding case between caver Vernon Unsworth and Tesla CEO Elon Musk on June 14, 2019. The outlet and one of its reporters subsequently received four additional subpoenas.

Unsworth is suing Musk for defamation, alleging that the tech executive repeatedly labeled him a pedophile without evidence on Twitter and in communications with BuzzFeed senior tech journalist Ryan Mac, the latter of which were published by the outlet.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reviewed the subpoena, which was filed by counsel for Musk. The subpoena ordered BuzzFeed to produce copies of two articles published by the outlet in August and September 2018, BuzzFeed’s communications with Unsworth and Musk, and documentation of BuzzFeed’s policies concerning “off the record” or “on background” conversations.

The subpoena also requested all documents concerning any payments, income, stipends, or gifts BuzzFeed received in exchange for the two articles containing Musk’s statements about Unsworth.

Lawyers representing BuzzFeed filed objections to the demand for the outlet’s communications with Musk and Unsworth on July 1, citing both parties’ access to these documents and the public availability of BuzzFeed’s News Standards and Ethics Guide. They also wrote that, consistent with the ethics guidelines, the outlet does not accept any form of payment or gifts to publish articles and therefore no documents are responsive to that request.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].