Dershowitz Defamation Suit Against CNN Allowed to Proceed

May 26, 2021, 2:36 PM

CNN must face a defamation suit by Law Professor Alan Dershowitz over its coverage of statements he made on the floor of the U.S. Senate while representing former President Donald Trump during his impeachment, a federal district court in Florida said.

In response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Dershowitz said that the only time a quid pro quo is unlawful is when the quo is illegal.

But CNN’s coverage of the day’s events focused on Dershowitz’s later statement that every public official “believes that his election is in the public interest” and “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

CNN commentators suggested that the “Dershowitz Doctrine” promoted lawlessness by the president and advocated an argument made by totalitarian regimes.

Dershowitz claimed that CNN knew the commentators’ statements were false and published them with an intent to indulge hostility and harm his reputation as a constitutional scholar. CNN moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

CNN’s argument that it was protected from the suit by the fair report privilege, which immunizes news agencies that report accurately on information received from government officials, was rejected in an opinion by Judge Raag Singhal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, who was appointed by Trump.

The privilege doesn’t apply because CNN presented an inaccurate abridgment of Dershowitz’s comments, the court said. The commentators ignored Dershowitz’s statement “that an illegal motive for a quid pro quo would be corrupt,” it said.

CNN also said that its commentators’ statements were non-actionable opinion. Disagreeing, the court said that the complaint sufficiently alleges that the statements were mixed expressions of opinions that can be construed as defamatory.

Dershowitz’s complaint also adequately alleged actual malice by CNN, which it can attempt to refute at trial, the court said.

Rodier & Rodier represented Dershowitz. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and Gunster represented CNN.

The case is Dershowitz v. Cable News Network Inc., S.D. Fla., No. 20-61872-CIV-Singhal, 5/25/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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