President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign said on Wednesday (February 26) it was filing a libel suit accusing the New York Times of intentionally publishing a false opinion article that suggested Russia and the campaign had an overarching deal in the 2016 U.S. election.
In an escalation of the Republican president’s long-running battle with the news media, campaign officials said the lawsuit was being filed in New York State Supreme Court, the state’s trial-level court.
Separately, Trump assailed two other news organizations that he frequently criticizes, the cable TV news channels CNN and MSNBC, accusing them of presenting the danger from the coronavirus in as bad a light as possible and upsetting financial markets.
A statement from the campaign said the aim of the suit against the Times, among the most prominent American news organizations, was to hold the newspaper “accountable for intentionally publishing false statements against President Trump’s campaign.”
The lawsuit relates to a March 27, 2019, opinion article written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of the Times from 1986 to 1994.
A draft copy of the suit, attached to a campaign news release, accused the newspaper of “extreme bias against (the campaign) and animosity” and cited what it called the Times’ “exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020.” Trump is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller documented Moscow’s campaign of hacking and social media propaganda to boost Trump’s 2016 candidacy and harm his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
It documented numerous contacts between people associated with Trump’s campaign and Russians. Mueller found insufficient evidence to show a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia but did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice related to the investigation.
In the opinion piece, Frankel stated, “Collusion – or a lack of it – turns out to have been the rhetorical trap that ensnared President Trump’s pursuers.”
Frankel added, “There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions. The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo.”
Trump’s criticism of what he calls liberal bias in the U.S. news media plays well with his conservative political base and often generates applause at his political rallies where his supporters often jeer journalists.
The New York Times was involved in a landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling that has served as a safeguard for media reporting on public figures.
The lawsuit originated with the Trump re-election campaign, but Trump himself has contended the Times has at times been biased against him.
Trump often refers to various news media outlets as “fake news” and has called elements of the U.S. news media “the enemy of the American people.”
(Production: Njuwa Maina)