In 2022, prior to the midterm elections, former President Donald Trump filed a $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN over its repeated use of the phrase "the Big Lie" -- which is historically linked to Nazi propaganda and Adolf Hitler -- to describe his claims of election fraud and efforts to dispute the reported results of the 2020 election.
On Friday, however, a U.S. district judge that Trump himself appointed ordered the lawsuit to be dismissed as Trump failed to prove that the CNN statements in question were falsities portrayed as facts instead of mere opinions, The Washington Times reported.
In the 29-page lawsuit filed in October 2022, lawyers for former President Trump made the case that CNN had defamed him and caused damage to his reputation and political career by falsely comparing him to Hitler and the Nazis.
The suit broadly alleged that "CNN has undertaken a smear campaign to malign the Plaintiff with a barrage of negative associations and innuendos, broadcasting commentary that he is like a cult leader, a Russian lackey, a dog whistler to white supremacists, and a racist. It is the stuff of tabloids cloaked as 'honored' news."
More specifically, Trump's attorneys provided several examples of CNN articles or broadcasts -- particularly those including the phrase "the Big Lie" -- in which direct comparisons were drawn between the former Republican president and the tyrannical Nazi dictator who waged a brutal war against other nations and engaged in horrific genocide against Jews and other minorities.
In the end, the lawsuit called for a trial by jury in which the network would be found liable for defamation and be ordered to pay $75,000 in compensatory damages, $475 million in punitive damages, and to pay for all litigation costs and interest.
CNN obviously opposed the lawsuit and filed a motion for dismissal, and Politico reported that U.S. District Judge Raag Singhal, appointed by Trump to the Southern District of Florida in 2019, sided with the cable news network and ordered the suit dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can't be filed again with the same legal arguments and reasoning.
In his 11-page ruling, Judge Singhal recounted the five main "Big Lie" statements from CNN in the former president's complaint and the argument that it was defamatory because it created "a false and incendiary association" between Trump and Hitler and "incited readers and viewers to hate, contempt, distrust, ridicule, and even fear the Plaintiff causing injury to the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff’s reputation, and the Plaintiff’s political career."
However, the judge cited prior precedence on defamation cases -- even prior decisions he didn't agree with but was bound by -- to draw the crucial distinction between what can be considered a statement of fact in comparison to mere opinions that are protected by the First Amendment.
"(T)he Court finds Nazi references in the political discourse (made by whichever 'side') to be odious and repugnant. But bad rhetoric is not defamation when it does not include false statements of fact," Singhal wrote. "CNN’s use of the phrase 'the Big Lie' in connection with Trump’s election challenges does not give rise to a plausible inference that Trump advocates the persecution and genocide of Jews or any other group of people. No reasonable viewer could (or should) plausibly make that reference."
"And even if the phrase 'the Big Lie' could somehow plausibly compel a reasonable viewer to perceive Trump as 'Hitler-like,' or 'authoritarian', such
terms are not statements of fact subject to defamation laws 'because of the tremendous imprecision of the meaning and usage of such terms in the realm of political debate,'" he continued. "Being 'Hitler-like' is not a verifiable statement of fact that would support a defamation claim."
"CNN’s statements, while repugnant, were not, as a matter of law, defamatory. The case will, therefore, be dismissed with prejudice," the judge concluded.
Both the Times and Politico noted that both CNN and Trump either declined or failed to respond to a request for comment about the ruling.
That said, in CNN's own coverage of the judge's decision in its favor, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a brief statement, "We agree with the highly respected judge’s findings that CNN’s statements about President Trump are repugnant."