Court clears Project Veritas to depose New York Times

New York Times building (Wikimedia Commons)

A court has cleared the way for Project Veritas, James O’Keefe’s organization that routinely does undercover reporting on a wide range of topics, revealing the secret agendas of corporations, to depose officials with the New York Times in a defamation case.

An order from the Supreme Court of New York, county of Westchester, denied the Times’ demand for a delay in the court process.

The publication earlier failed to have the case dismissed, and now wanted it suspended while it appealed that decision.

But the court ordered that the Times’ “motion is denied without prejudice to defendants’ seeking a stay from the Appellate Division,” and scheduled a conference next month on the case.

The ruling said, “Plaintiff will be substantially prejudiced by a stay. … As argued by plaintiff, New York courts recognize that ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ and that therefore ‘some excellent reason would have to be demonstrated before a judge is asked to bring to a halt a litigant’s question for a day in court.'”

In a report in the Gateway Pundit, O’Keefe said, “Ladies and gentlemen: Let the depositions begin. Stay tuned. We’re about to drop the first New York Times deposition any day.”

The court had continued, “Here, having failed to convince the court that [Project Veritas’] case should be dismissed, [The New York Times][ also failed to demonstrate the extraordinary justification required for the imposition of the drastic remedy fo a stay pending appeal.”

Weeks ago, the lawsuit was advanced by Justice Charles D. Wood, who denied the paper’s motion to dismiss.

The judge, in his order, found “a substantial basis in law and fact that the defendants acted with actual malice, that is, with knowledge that the statements in the article were false or made with reckless disregard of whether they were false or not.”

Now Project Veritas could interview, on the record, Times reporter Maggie Astor and executive editor Dean Baquet.

Questions could include about the intent and motives of reporting on Project Veritas’ investigation of and documentation of election events in Minnesota..

The Times called the Project Veritas investigation “deceptive.” The paper defended its reporting by calling it an “unverifiable expression of opinion.”

But the judge said, “If a writer interjects an opinion in a news article (and will seek to claim legal protections as opinion) it stands to reason that the writer should have an obligation to alert the reader – that it is opinion.”

Project Veritas said the Times “did not do so, and the court found this troubling.”

The judge concluded that Project Veritas had shown “a substantial basis in law and fact that the defendants [The New York Times] acted with actual malice.”

“We’ve made it past motion to dismiss in defamation lawsuit in Project Veritas v. NYT!!!,” wrote O’Keefe on Twitter. “We’re going to depose them on videotape and we’re going to win.”

Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University, said he plans to talk about the case in his law classes.

“The New York Times obviously could still prevail in the case. However, it is now facing difficult months of discovery absent a reversal of this decision,” he wrote on his website. “The actual malice standard is a great protection for the media. However, once a court finds a basis for the allegation, a wide array of evidence become material including the confidential communications between reporters. … That can lead to drawn out litigation over confidentiality and demands for ex parte and in camera reviews by the court.”

He noted that columnist Andrew Sullivan recently criticized the media for emphasizing narratives over news.

“Indeed, we have discussed how journalism professors have publicly called for an end of objectivity in journalism as too constraining for reporters in seeking ‘social justice,'” Turley wrote. “This trend toward advocacy journalism has led to polls showing record lows in terms of trust for the media. The cost of the changing view of journalism may not only be in the loss of core trust but of core legal protections.”

He pointed out the Times lost a similar case to former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin last year.

Turley noted the Times’ writers are accused of libeling Project Veritas by stating their opinions as fact in their articles.

One Times headline was “Project Veritas Video Was a ‘Coordinated Disinformation Campaign,’ Researchers Say.” Another was “Conservative News Sites Fuel Voter Fraud Misinformation.” The Times described Project Veritas as “deceptive” and part of a “propaganda feedback loop.”

Turley pointed out the judge’s criticism that the Times was blurring the line between opinion and fact.

“It is a common complaint as major news media yield to the ‘echo chamber’ model of journalism — appealing to the bias of readers or viewers in offering slanted coverage,” he said.

The judge found that what the Times now calls “opinion” was “tightly intertwined” with other parts of the writings.

The judge wrote: “The court finds that the documentary proof and the facts alleged by Veritas are sufficient to meet its burden. The facts submitted by Veritas could indicate more than standard, garden variety media bias and support a plausible inference of actual malice. There is a substantial basis in law to proceed to permit the plaintiff to conduct discovery and to then attempt to meet its higher standard of proving liability through clear and convincing evidence of actual malice. Malice focuses on the defendant’s state of mind in relation to the truth or falsity of the published information. Here there is a substantial basis in law and fact that defendants acted with actual malice, that is, with knowledge that the statements in the articles were false or made with reckless disregard of whether they were false or not. Veritas alleged actual malice by providing facts sufficient to demonstrate defendants’ alleged disregard for the truthfulness of its statements. Accordingly, at this very early stage of the litigation, Veritas’ submissions were sufficient to withstand defendants’ motions, and further proceedings are necessary to resolve the issues raised.”

Turley said the case “could prove a critical shot across the bow for many in the media that the blurring of opinion and fact could come at a high price.”

“Notably, The New York Times argued that there was nothing wrong with articles because the reporters were stating their opinions. Project Veritas noted that the paper’s own ethical policies prohibit news reporters from injecting their subjective opinions into news stories.”

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