The recent announcement that Devin Nunes was set to bring a lawsuit against the McClatchy newspaper service has brought about a fair amount of derision in media circles, unsurprisingly. Many members of the press are calling the suit meritless, and some even intone fear over what it means to have a sitting member of Congress looking to sue a major news organization. Meanwhile, these same hand-wringers are noticeably silent over a broader piece of overreach in Congress.
The basis of the Nunes suit is over an article that appeared in The Fresno Bee, a paper owned by McClatchy. The article concerned a business excursion that took place on a yacht, involving a number of winery executives where cocaine and prostitutes were reportedly known to be used. Nunes was not on board, but the framing of the article and the impression made by the headline implied his culpability.
One of the executives was connected to a winery that Nunes is listed as a part owner. Moreover, the event was staged as an event to benefit charities, but the story headline described it as a “fundraiser”, implicating Nunes as being behind the event. It is for this reason that he is bringing the suit, as he contends the paper knew the details behind this event and intentionally framed the story to slander Nunes, and to impact his work investigating collusion in Congress.
Among the press members who deride this suit is CNN’s Oliver Darcy. The reporter is filled with doubts and scorn as he provides what sounds like a defense of McClatchy. “Nunes is getting ridiculed for his legal filings, first against Twitter, now against McClatchy,” writes Darcy, in Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter. He adds, “In the meantime, as CNN legal analyst Renato Mariotti tweeted, ‘No one should cover his frivolous lawsuits without putting them in proper context.’”
To lend even more defense, Darcy provides a quote from Joshua Benton, of Harvard’s NiemanLab. “We should not overlook how awful this is. A sitting member of Congress suing a news organization on clearly nonsense grounds to harass a free press.” There are some stark differences however, regarding the Nunes suit, and the recent announcement that the House Oversight Committee wants to begin targeting investigations into Fox News.
On the HOC Chairman Elijah Cummings wants to obtain evidence from former Fox News reporter Diana Falzone, regarding a story she had about porn star Stormy Daniels and her affair with Donald Trump. Cummings wants to look into the matter, suspecting that the network killed the story ahead of the 2016 election to shield Trump.
The question is, what basis does Cummings have for this? What investigation is this attached to? None. There is no current crime or investigation taking place regarding this story; it is purely Cummings going on a fishing expedition hoping to come up with something – anything – tangible to weaponize. Whether he is targeting Fox News, or ultimately the President, this is a wild overstepping of authority — and CNN is notably silent about it.
Consider all of the outrage and furrowed-brow concern we have been subjected to over the past 2-plus years regarding “threats to the press”. Donald Trump’s willingness to call out the media complex and specifically name networks as purveyors of “fake news” has been said to be grievous threats to journalistic freedom and an overall threat to our democracy.
Yet when you have a governing body seeking to target a news outlet these same pearl-clutching hysterics are remarkably muted on the issue. CNN harbors a clear animus towards Fox News (Stelter and Darcy in particular trend towards obsession) so they do not object to seeing the bane of their industry coming under fire. Typical of their short-sightedness they do not see any level of setting a precedent. If they let this go without resistance they open the door for future — more hostile — administrations to have the tools to silence them.
The difference here is the Nunes suit is being brought by him, as a citizen. He is bringing it to the courts, where it can be weighed for validity and ruled accordingly. If it is as meritless as claimed it will be dismissed. Cummings and the HOC have less firm standards to adhere to in order to exert their influence on Fox News.
If Oliver & Company cheer this effort they will soon find themselves in a scenario of their making they will come to deeply regret. It is perplexing that after years of wailing about the threat the government is posing to them as individuals and as an industry they can placidly sit back and allow that same government to go after a segment of their industry in a hostile manner. It is just another example of a media complex that is utterly rudderless.