U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones dismissed the lawsuit on Friday, saying in his opinion that an on-air statement made by CNN about Project Veritas did not rise to the level of an actionable claim, Deadline first reported.
The lawsuit centered on a Feb. 15, 2021, report in which CNN’s Ana Cabrera said the right-wing outlet, led by James O’Keefe, was suspended from Twitter for “spreading disinformation.” Project Veritas said the group wasn’t suspended for spreading disinformation, but for “repeated violations of Twitter’s policies prohibiting the sharing — or threats of sharing — of other people’s private information without consent.”
In his opinion (read it here), U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones wrote that Project Veritas reputation would have been maligned either way. He wrote that “while there is some difference between violating a policy by providing incorrect or misleading information and violating a policy by truthfully providing someone’s private information (and potentially exposing a person to harm), the distinction is not enough to make the statement at issue actionable as both violations are similarly damaging to the journalist’s reputation. Project Veritas’s allegations and arguments do not plausibly suggest that the truth (as pled in the Complaint) would have a different effect on the mind of the average reader in terms of the reputational harm.
Project Veritas and its founder, O’Keefe, are known for spying on other news organizations, deceptively editing “sting” videos, and promoting false claims. In 2020, for instance, the group attempted to smear Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) by falsely claiming her reelection campaign illegally collected ballots. The smear was widely discredited.
And last week, CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that Project Veritas has been engaged in a harassment campaign against New York Times reporters who have reported on the group’s spy tactics. After publishing his report, Darcy said O’Keefe and his team confronted Darcy outside of CNN’s office.
“O’Keefe and a team of several others responded to my story by staking me out and harassing me as I walked to work in the morning,” Darcy wrote in CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter on Friday. “O’Keefe referenced my reporting from last week and badgered me with all sorts of questions. The goal of all of this seems clear: to make shining a light on Project Veritas an unpleasant experience. O’Keefe and Project Veritas apparently target reporters who write stories they don’t like.”
Harmeet K. Dhillon, an attorney for Project Veritas, told Deadline the group stands by its assertion that CNN “defamed Project Veritas by falsely stating as fact that Twitter removed Project Veritas for spreading misinformation.”