Twin lawsuits, fraud probe mark bad day for news media in already bad year

Myriad lawsuits, such as the high-profile litigation between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems, as well as downturn in outlook for media outlets have led to large-scale layoffs.

Published: November 20, 2023 11:06pm

Monday marked a particularly bad day for the news media as a pair of lawsuits and a fraud investigation took aim at separate instances of allegedly false reports and threatened to impose expensive consequences upon an industry already facing financial adversity.

Myriad lawsuits, such as the high-profile litigation between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems, as well as a general downturn in outlook for media outlets have led to large-scale layoffs.

Moreover, a litany of major revisions, retractions, and corrections has further heightened reader skepticism. Monday's events are likely to only advance these trends.

Media Matters draws civil suit, fraud probe over X advertising report

Media Matters for America (MMFA), a media watchdog group, took the first two hits on Monday in the form of a "thermonuclear lawsuit" from social media platform X and a fraud investigation by Texas GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Both developments involved an allegedly fabricated report from the organization claiming that the social media platform had positioned advertisements for major companies next to antisemitic content.

The X suit alleged that MMFA "knowingly and maliciously manufactured" a string of images linking ads to antisemitic and pro-Nazi content in a bid to portray the platform as rife with bigotry.

The article, entitled "As Musk endorses antisemitic conspiracy theory, X has been placing ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to pro-Nazi content," purported to show organic posts and ad placement, though the suit contends that MMFA conducted a deliberate smear by manufacturing them.

MMFA President Angelo Carusone told Reuters the same day that "[i]f you search for white nationalist content, there are ads flourishing. The system they say exists is not operating as such," referencing company claims that its system protects firms from ad placement next to objectionable content.

X CEO Linda Yaccarino, however, claimed that "Not a single authentic user on X saw IBM’s, Comcast’s, or Oracle’s ads next to the content in Media Matters' article. Only 2 users saw Apple's ad next to the content, at least one of which was Media Matters."

Paxton, meanwhile, announced a probe into MMFA amid the allegations, stating "[u]nder the Texas Business Organizations Code and the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the OAG [Office of the Attorney General] will vigorously enforce against nonprofits who commit fraudulent acts in or affecting the state of Texas."

Paxton's office further dubbed MMFA "a radical anti-free speech organization" and the AG asserted that "[w]e are examining the issue closely to ensure that the public has not been deceived by the schemes of radical left-wing organizations who would like nothing more than to limit freedom by reducing participation in the public square."

Trump Media & Technology Group sues 20 media outlets over Truth Social coverage

Twenty other major news firms found themselves Monday on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the Trump Media & Technology Group alleging they published false reporting on the company's financials.

At issue was a string of reports from the firms all claiming that the company lost $73 million and attributing the figure to a publicly available filing that the company insisted does not include the number anywhere.

"Each defendant, in apparent coordination, reported the exact same false number within approximately 24 hours of one another, each citing to a public Securities and Exchange Commission ('SEC')  filing, in which the mystery $73 million loss appears nowhere," the suit claimed. TMTG recently filed an amended S-4 registration statement with the SEC to advance its long-delayed merger with Digital World Acquisition Corporation.

The company’s suit alleged the media outlets "deliberately or recklessly published false financial information to advance a preferred and coordinated narrative harmful to TMTG" and undermine the prospective merger. Though some outlets, the firm conceded, amended their stories, none issued full retractions.

"TMTG intends to hold these reckless and malicious media outlets to account for their false reporting and for their seemingly coordinated effort to destroy TMTG and Truth Social," the company declared.

The suit named Guardian News and Media, The Hollywood Reporter, the Miami Herald, Reuters, Rolling Stone, The Hill, Deadline Hollywood, Benzinga, MarketWatch, Forbes, Axios, The Daily Beast, Gizmodo, Salon, The New York Daily News, Newsweek, MSNBC Cable, Mediaite, The Daily Mail, and CNBC as defendants.

It's been a bad year already for the media

Fox News, in April of this year, reached a settlement with Dominion Voting Systems in which the outlet agreed to pay the firm a colossal $787.5 million to resolve a defamation lawsuit.

"We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court's rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false," the company said at the time. "This settlement reflects FOX's continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues."

Dominion had claimed that Fox defamed the company by allowing its guests to make false claims about it on the air. The network had argued the content was protected under the First Amendment.

More recently, legacy news outlets such as the New York Times were forced to issue editor's notes or revisions to headlines claiming in October that Israeli forces had struck a hospital in Gaza, resulting in hundreds dead. The initial headlines largely relied on accounts from Gazan officials.

Israel, for its part, asserted that the rocket had been launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group in Gaza and only struck the hospital's parking lot as the result of a misfire. The United States subsequently backed Jerusalem's account. The initial headlines, however, prompted a series of anti-Israel demonstrations across the Middle East.

The economy in general has further taken its toll and prompted layoffs across the media. The Washington Post in October, for example, announced the voluntary buyouts of 240 positions. National Public Radio (NPR), meanwhile, slashed several podcasts and cut staff earlier in the year. Other outlets, such as Bloomberg, Vice Media, CBC Digital, and Conde Nast have also cut staff this year, Axios reported.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.

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