A number of major news organizations have urged the U.S. Court of Appeals to rethink its September decision to partially revive a defamation suit by California Rep. Devin Nunes against journalist Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines over a 2018 Esquire story on Nunes’ family farm. The story, titled “Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret,” alleged that the congressman’s family had moved the dairy farm from California to Iowa, in a town that is heavily reliant on undocumented labor.
A district court judge originally tossed out the suit, but in September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that Lizza, who now works for Politico, had “republished” the story by retweeting a link to it after the suit had been filed, meaning that the libel suit is back in action.
Now, 35 news organizations — including Bloomberg, Associated Press, Advance Publications, Penske Media Corp. (parent of WWD), Reuters, Fox, The New York Times, Dow Jones, Vice Media, Buzzfeed and Vox Media — have expressed their concern that the decision sharply contradicts what has, until now, been settled law governing both the use of hyperlinks to reference information online and the actual-malice pleading obligations of public officials and public figures.
“In disseminating the news, journalists rely on a wide and long-standing judicial consensus that providing a reader with a hyperlink to an article does not republish it for purposes of a libel claim. They also rely on long-settled precedent holding that receiving a prepublication denial from the subject of a critical report does not, on its own, establish actual malice in publishing the report,” it said.
“The panel’s decision departing from these two key principles, if permitted to stand, could create havoc for not just news publishers, but all distributors of content.”
Out of all the news organizations that have joined forces, Fox piqued the most interest among media reporters since Nunes is a regular guest on the network.
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