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BuzzFeed reporter receives second subpoena in ongoing Unsworth-Musk defamation lawsuit

October 1, 2019

Ryan Mac, a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News, was issued his second subpoena in the ongoing case between caver Vernon Unsworth and Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Sept. 6, 2019. In total, five subpoenas were issued for reporting material and testimony from Mac and the digital news outlet.

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

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reviewed the motion to quash both subpoenas for Mac’s deposition. The filing said that Musk was the first to issue a subpoena, demanding that Mac appear at a Sept. 11 deposition. About a week later, Unsworth filed a deposition subpoena cross-noticing the subpoena from Musk, listing the same date and time.

Musk’s counsel had previously issued two subpoenas for information from the news organization.

Unsworth had promised not to file additional subpoenas for discovery after BuzzFeed complied with a previous subpoena for documents establishing how many people viewed BuzzFeed articles about Musk’s dispute with Unsworth.

The filing said that Unsworth’s counsel was asked to voluntarily withdraw the subpoena. They declined.

Mac’s attorneys filed the motion to quash both deposition subpoenas on Sept. 13, arguing that any information that could be gained legally is already available to the parties and everything else is protected under California’s reporter’s privilege.

“The Deposition Subpoenas represent an attempt to harass and scapegoat BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac for publishing a news article about comments made by billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk,” the filing said.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18.

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

October 8, 2019 Update

On Oct. 8, 2019, a California judge upheld caver Vernon Unsworth’s subpoena to depose a reporter in connection with the unfolding defamation case between Unsworth and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Ryan Mac, a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News, received a subpoena from Musk’s lawyers ordering him to appear at a Sept. 11 deposition in San Francisco. About a week later, Unsworth’s counsel filed their own deposition subpoena.

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

Mac’s counsel filed a motion to quash both subpoenas; Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley granted the request to quash Musk’s but allowed Unsworth’s to stand, according to a filing shared on Twitter by Mac.

Scott Corley specified, however, that the deposition and cross-examination would be limited to two topics: “(1) establishing that there were no communications between Mr. Mac and Mr. Musk other than the emails at issue; and (2) that BuzzFeed published those communications.”

Mac tweeted that the judge’s decision to quash Musk’s deposition subpoena was a win for the free press, and that the suit will go to trial in November.

These were two of five total subpoenas issued in the case; the three subpoenas issued against BuzzFeed were partially complied with and the news organization has not received court orders compelling it to fully comply with the subpoenas.

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