California Congressman Devin Nunes files defamation suit against newspaper for its coverage

April 9, 2019

California Representative Devin Nunes is targeting The McClatchy Company, which owns The Fresno Bee, in a $150 million defamation lawsuit, arguing that its reporting on the congressman constituted “character assassination.”

The lawsuit focuses on an exposé The Bee published May 23, 2018, about a yacht party in which Napa Valley wine investors took cocaine. Nunes claims that the story was defamatory because it implied that he was involved in the cocaine and sex worker-fueled party. The article does not state that Nunes was present, but it does name him as a partial investor in the company.

Nunes’ lawsuit also accuses McClatchy and Mays of unethical journalism:

“The Defendants in this case abandoned the role of journalist, and chose to leverage their considerable power to spread falsehoods and to defame the Plaintiff for political and financial gain.”

The McClatchy California Opinion Editors authored a piece in The Bee on April 10 refuting many of Nunes’ core allegations.

The lawsuit also accuses Republican consultant Liz Mair of conspiring with reporter MacKenzie Mays — who previously wrote for the Fresno Bee — to derail Nunes’ work and “smear” him.

Mair is also a defendant in a secondary defamation lawsuit by Nunes against Twitter and several of its users over parody accounts that he made. Nunes is accusing the social media company of “shadow banning” his tweets, or curtailing the reach of his social media presence.

Mair responded to the Twitter litigation in a USA Today column on April 5.

“It’s vitally important that the entire nation understands what this lawsuit is really about: A sitting member of the U.S. government, specifically, a congressman, is trying to stifle free speech — mine, yours and every other American’s — by using litigation as a cudgel to bully and intimidate,” Mair wrote.

During an April 10 interview on the Fox news show Fox & Friends, Nunes accused McClatchy of being the “biggest perpetrator of fake news,” and said that he intended to “go after” other news outlets with defamation outlets.

“McClatchy is one of the worst offenders of this,” Nunes said. “But we're coming after the rest of them.”

The same day, CNN reported on an internal memo and statement from McClatchy, which vowed to defend The Bee.

“The lawsuit represents a baseless attack on local journalism and a free press,” read McClatchy’s statement. “At a time when local journalism is facing more pressing and urgent challenges, the lawsuit is an unproductive distraction and a misuse of the judicial system.”

Nunes’ office did not respond to request by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker for comment.

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

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