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Why Did Donald Trump Sue CNN?

Donald Trump. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Donald Trump. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

President Donald Trump sued CNN on Monday, alleging defamation. According to Trump, CNN is working at “defeating him politically.”

In the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern Florida, “Trump alleged CNN has maliciously made false and defamatory statements about him,” NBC reported. “He is seeking $475 million in punitive damages, as well as compensatory damages to be determined at trial.” 

“Beyond simply highlighting any negative information about the Plaintiff and ignoring all positive information about him, CNN has sought to use its massive influence – purportedly as a ‘trusted’ news source – to defame the Plaintiff in the minds of its viewers and readers for the purpose of defeating him politically,” Trump’s 29-page complaint reads. “CNN’s campaign of dissuasion in the form of libel and slander against the Plaintiff has only escalated in recent months as CNN fears the Plaintiff will run for president in 2024.”

The complaint continues: “As a part of [CNN’s] concerted effort to tilt the political balance to the Left, CNN has tried to taint the Plaintiff with a series of ever-more scandalous, false, and defamatory labels of ‘racist,’ ‘Russian lackey,’ ‘insurrectionist’ and ultimately ‘Hitler.’ These labels are neither hyperbolic nor opinion: these are repeatedly reported as true fact, with purported factual support, by allegedly ‘reputable’ newscasters, acting not merely with reckless disregard for the truth of their statements…but acting with real animosity for the Plaintiff and seeking to cause him true harm.”

The lawsuit indicates that last July, CNN refused a Trump team request to retract 34 articles and TV segments that the former president considered defamatory. The lawsuit included a portion of CNN’s response. “CNN has had the opportunity to review your letter…and to evaluate your demand to take down and retract the…segments you identify as defamatory, and to cease referring to representations made by former President Trump regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election as ‘lies.’ We decline your request.”

“While we will address the merits of any lawsuit should one be filed,” CNN continued, “we note that you have not identified a single false or defamatory statement in your letter. It is well-established that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was unaffected by fraud, as verified by the dismissal of no fewer than 50 lawsuits by judges across the United States asserting otherwise, the sanctioning of multiple attorneys for making unsubstantiated election-fraud claims, and investigations conducted by the Department of Justice, Congress, and various state and local bodies.”

The irony in all this, is that CNN, especially their former executive Jeff Zucker, is credited with “making” Donald Trump. 

Zucker was the man responsible for “The Apprentice,” which made Donald Trump a household name. But more directly, Zucker recalibrated CNN’s coverage during the 2016 election to focus on Trump. “As soon as [Zucker] saw the ratings [Trump] could still deliver, [Zucker] spent 2015 and 2016 turning CNN into a platform for [Trump’s] ambitions,” the New York Times reported. Meanwhile, “other presidential candidates seethed and suspected – accurately, it turns out – that [Trump and Zucker} maintained a cozy backchannel.”

“When the folks over there at CNN get all high and mighty about their journalistic integrity – that’s just not real,” Terry Sullivan, Marco Rubio’s campaign manager, said. “They’re running a reality TV show, that’s what Zucker’s good at.”

Preston Beckman, a former NBC executive, felt that “Mr. Zucker’s thirst for ratings blinded him to the damage he was doing by offering saturation Trump coverage,” the New York Times wrote. “He’s a ratings whore – and I’m telling you that as a ratings whore,” Beckman said. “But it’s one thing to be a ratings whore in prime time and it’s another thing to be a ratings whore when it comes to news.”  

Zucker is no longer at CNN — he exited amid a scandal. In the meantime, Trump’s relationship with CNN clearly seems to have soured, as the lawsuit indicates. But the relationship between Trump and CNN, and Trump and the media generally, remains weirdly symbiotic. The media thrives off Trump. Trump and his base thrive off of negative media coverage. It’s a sick, little cycle that has helped to degrade political discourse and to erode public confidence in journalism. 

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass. 

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.