Florida defamation bill could challenge longstanding Supreme Court ruling

Zak Young says his business and livelihood were destroyed and the lives of innocent people were endangered when CNN allegedly ruined him with TV and print stories.

As an elite security guard with the skills and connections to lure people out of Taliban-fallen Afghanistan, Young sees himself barbarized as a dark marketer trying to expel helpless refugees and not rescue them. I was.

None of that was true, Young said in a defamation lawsuit complaint against CNN. He said corporate sponsors advertised to pay a hefty fee for the secret extraction. He saved the Afghan employees of Bloomberg, Audible and other multinationals.

But after the CNN report, his income plummeted to zero and his rescue pipeline was completely shut down, he said in the complaint.

Epoch Times photo
Zak Young sued CNN for defamation, claiming his business rescuing refugees from Afghanistan was destroyed by a CNN article that he later had to retract. (Photo credit: Zak Young)

His lifelong connections in the military and related security work appreciated his skill and discretion. They didn’t want to do business with someone labeled as a dark marketer fleeing helpless and desperate Afghans at exorbitant fees, he says in the complaint.

“CNN has (again and again) stated or falsely implied that Young sold evacuees on the ‘black market.’ State of the grievance.” Despite repeatedly stating or falsely insinuating that he was exploiting, in reality Young never sold his services to Afghans or targeted corporate sponsors.”

Deanna K. Shullman, an attorney for CNN and Shullman Fugate PLLC in West Palm Beach, did not respond to an emailed request for comment by The Epoch Times.

A defamation lawsuit like Young’s, which is currently before a Florida judge, would be affected by a Florida bill introduced by Rep. Alex Andrade. Protection will be extended, said Devin “Vel” Freedman, Young’s attorney at Roche Freedman LLP in Miami.

The current standard for defamation was set in Warren-era judgments. New York Times vs. Sullivan Most notably, to win a libel suit, the plaintiff must show not only that the defendant published false and defamatory information, but that it did so with “actual malice.” This means that the publisher either knew the information was false or published it with “reckless disregard” of whether it was true or not.

Epoch Times photo
Devin “Bell” Friedman of Miami, attorney for defamation plaintiff Zak Young; (Photo credit: Zak Young)

“The cornerstone of U.S. defamation law is the judgment known as … Times vs. Sullivanby its descendants, makes it virtually impossible for people in the public eye to sue the news media for defamation, even if they are slandered by harmful falsehoods,” said Edward Wasserman. . I have written At The American Prospect on August 23, 2021.

“harm caused by of new york times The standards for slander are considerable. This doctrine, in accordance with one of America’s oldest and most venerable traditions, attacks the central purpose of government. It erodes equality, undermines the protection of rights, and undermines the nation’s ability to achieve true autonomy,” said Carson Holloway. I have written At the Conservative Party of America on September 9, 2022.

“The ‘actual malice’ standard allows the media to spread defamatory lies, especially in the political realm, with little impunity,” Holloway writes. Holloway took part in a roundtable led by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on February 7, arguing for the need for reform. Times vs. Sullivan.

This ruling was initially applied to “public servants,” but was extended to “public figures” in two 1967 cases.

The actress who accused Bill Cosby of raping him while on tour with boyfriend Sammy Davis Jr. in 1974 was sued after being called a liar by Cosby’s attorneys. He was considered a “public figure of purpose” and lost when he failed to meet the standards for bad faith.

This 2019 Supreme Court case was where Justice Clarence Thomas voiced his concerns. Times vs. Sullivan He wrote that he agreed with the majority and dissented.Another judge, Neil Gorsuch, was subsequently questioned Times vs. Sullivan with another objection.

Security guard Richard Jewell, falsely accused in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, lost a defamation lawsuit against the Atlanta Journal Constitution. This is because he accepted interview requests from reporters and made him a celebrity for the purposes of the lawsuit.

Definitions of “bad faith” and “public figure”

The pending Florida bill greatly strengthens the language on bad faith and tightens who is considered a “public figure.”

The bill states that for the purpose of finding defamation committed, if a defendant fabricated or imagined an allegation, or if the allegation was based on anonymous reports that were not fully verified, courts would not be able to prove actual malice. I have to guess.

Courts may rule bad faith if an allegation is inherently implausible and only a reckless person would publish it, or if there is obvious reason to doubt its veracity or the accuracy of an informant’s report. Infer that, says the bill.

It is very specific to tell journalists if they should doubt what a source is telling them.

“There are clear grounds for doubting the veracity of the report,” the bill says. “[I]f. there is sufficient evidence to the contrary that the defendant knew or should have known after reasonable inquiry, or if the report is inherently improbable or superficially implausible; or Defendant willfully fails to verify, support, or otherwise verify defamation claims. ”

Andrade, who sponsored the bill and is an attorney who has worked on defamation cases, told The Epoch Times that no other state has attempted to clearly define “bad faith” in its defamation laws.

He said some concerns about the bill were exaggerated. He said he didn’t find it challenging. Times vs. Sullivan But it could raise some questions about the subsequent ruling, such as expanding on who is a “public person.”

He also stressed that existing Florida law, which his bill does not seek to change, protects publishers who promptly correct errors. and if the issuer implements the withdrawal after another 20 days, the issuer’s liability for damages will be sufficiently reduced that most plaintiffs will not bear the costs and it would be cumbersome to sue. said Andrade.

Andrade said the bill would not change what is considered slander. “Now, if you call someone transphobic, racist, or Nazi, that’s an opinion. And they still are.”

Accusing someone of discriminatory conduct can be the subject of a defamation lawsuit, and the law somewhat strengthens the plaintiff’s position here.

According to the bill, allegations that a plaintiff discriminated against another person on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation are the more serious of the two types of defamation defined in the law. It is considered “defamation itself,” Andrade said. For mild defamation, the plaintiff may have to prove that he suffered financially, but that can be difficult to prove, he said.

Epoch Times photo
Martin Luther King, 1964 (Public Domain)

Andrade Times vs. Sullivan After the ruling, the New York Times was accused of errors falling into the lower category. It was made public that Martin Luther King was arrested seven times, of which he was only four. Such things, which Andrade called “technical falsehoods,” may or may not have done great harm to someone.

The bill also states that defendants cannot prove the truth of allegations of discrimination regarding sexual orientation or gender identity by citing plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected religious expressions or beliefs or plaintiffs’ scientific beliefs. It stipulates

Interest from DeSantis

Times vs. Sullivan It might be on the mind of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who held a roundtable on Feb. 7 to discuss defamation.

DeSantis’ office announced that the governor was boycotting the network after it claimed that NBC and MSNBC opposed teaching about slavery in public schools.

DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said in a Twitter post that traditional news outlets are “malicious” and intended to “deceive people.” Mitchell seemed to take some back, noting that her wording was “inaccurate” in what was labeled an “afterword”. In a statement, Griffin rejected what he called her “non-apology apology.”

The state rejected the AP African American Studies curriculum proposed by the College Board for including black queer studies and other indoctrination attempts. As a result, private groups have changed that.

Slander in the age of social media

But the greater power in Andrade’s bill may be for those who will never be considered public figures. Individuals like Young were suddenly in the spotlight. And the bill addresses some of the key elements so far. Times vs. Sullivan With the advent of social media, it no longer works today.

Freedman said the bill would make the current system of assessing attorneys’ fees less burdensome for plaintiffs. Damaged parties are often discouraged from filing lawsuits by the current system.

The bill also makes it more difficult for publishers to declare someone a “public figure.”

The bill states that a person cannot be considered a public person simply by defending himself against accusations or allowing interviews, as was the case with Richard Jewell. And not because the video went viral online.

If the bill were passed, no civil servant could be considered a public person unless he was directly appointed by an elected or elected official. He may be his manager.

Young told The Epoch Times that CNN is yet to declare him a public figure, but expects they will.

Young’s complaints to CNN included CNN’s storyline pointing to and showing Kiron’s photo, including the words “Black Market” prominently displayed on the screen below Young’s photo, as spoken by the narrator. Contains momentary descriptions.

According to the complaint, Young was contacted via encrypted text message by CNN reporter Alexander Marquardt, and sent back a text message the next day asking for a detailed list of questions and the facts and allegations he was about to make public about him.

Marquardt texted back that the piece was set to run that day. According to the lawsuit, Young said, “Some of your facts/assertions are not accurate. If they are made public, I will seek legal damages.”

“Marquardt did not offer to delay the production to give Young enough time to respond, but simply delivered an inaccurate story,” the complaint alleges. Failure to make reasonable efforts to know or to allow Young to provide the true version of events.”

CNN retracted the article and apologized to Young four months later. But by then his reputation had been tarnished and his business had collapsed, he said in the lawsuit.

“No one in Young’s community will touch him because CNN has made him an international pariah,” the lawsuit states. “Young has no realistic prospects of reviving his career.”

Holloway wrote in the article, “In a representative democracy, people must set the basic direction of public policy by electing public officials who agree on the major issues facing the country. This mandate. In order to successfully carry out public office, the public needs accurate information about candidates for public office, and in a healthy democracy, the press conscientiously seeks to provide such information.

“However, influencing election results by misrepresenting a candidate’s position on a controversial issue or disparaging the character of some candidates through defamation is a partisan effort. It will benefit a narrow range of partisans, including the media outlets. new york times v. Sullivan In fact, it encourages such behavior. ”