BuzzFeed cheers judge’s decision in long-running court case about Steele dossier

Posted at 10:05 PM, Dec 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-20 00:05:36-05

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

BuzzFeed wins

BuzzFeed News has been operating under a legal cloud due to its publication of the Russia dossier in January 2017. On Wednesday, the sun finally broke through.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports: Judge Ursula Ungaro of the US District Court in Miami ruled that the news outlet “was protected in the court system from accusations of defamation because high-ranking government officials took action to vet the dossier and speak to Trump and then-President Barack Obama about it before it was made public. In short, the dossier was newsworthy, the judge found.”

A lawyer for the plaintiff, Russian tech entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev, “said that his team would appeal,” Polantz reports. But Ungaro’s ruling “closes the case against BuzzFeed at the trial-court level.” There is one other suit against BuzzFeed still pending in NY… filed by the Russian Alfa Bank… but Gubarev’s suit was the most advanced, so this puts BF on a solid legal footing. Read on…

Ben Smith’s reaction

Ungaro recognized that “the press acts as the agent of the public” and provides info so that the public can “exercise oversight of the government.”

BuzzFeed News EIC Ben Smith says this ruling “vindicated our decision” to publish the dossier. Read his statement here…

How the BuzzFeed newsroom found out

Oliver Darcy emails: The BuzzFeed newsroom was all cheers when it learned of the decision Wednesday afternoon. A BF spokesperson told me that Ben Smith received a call from the outlet’s lead lawyer on the case around 4:50pm.Once Smith learned of the decision, he walked out of his office and into the newsroom where he shouted the news. The newsroom then broke into applause. Employees who were not in NYC were then informed via Slack…

>> Opinion editor Tom Gara tweeted: “Can you even imagine what it would have been like if the dossier remained secret all this time — all that news coverage just talking about it but nobody knowing what’s in it?”


— McClatchy’s bid for Tribune Publishing is reportedly “dead.” But Patrick Soon-Shiong is crying foul: He tweeted on Wednesday night that the deal would “save local journalism…” (Twitter)

— Bloomberg says it is expanding its TicToc video service beyond Twitter… But is anyone watching? (Variety)

— Ann Coulter said “Trump will very likely not finish his term and definitely not be elected to a second term.” Fox News cited her comments around 7:05 p.m. ET. According to this bot, Trump unfollowed Coulter on Twitter by 7:40… (Twitter)

Trump’s decision-by-tweet

What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

Trump’s surprise announcement via tweet — “we have defeated ISIS in Syria,” so the troops are withdrawing — has been met by massive opposition. Just now Lindsey Graham (trying to speak Trump’s language?) said that Trump’s claim about ISIS being defeated is “fake news.”

Much of the opposition is coming from within Trump’s inner circle. “Senior officials across the administration agree that the President’s decision-by-tweet will recklessly put American and allied lives in danger around the world, take the pressure off of ISIS — allowing them to reconstitute — and hand a strategic victory to our Syrian, Iranian and Russian adversaries,” a senior admin official told CNN’s Jake Tapper…

Waking up to these Thursday headlines…

WaPo: “Push to quickly leave Syria startles allies and White House aides

NYT: “A Strategy of Retreat in Syria, With Echoes of Obama” “Graham: Trump’s Syria withdrawal a ‘stain on the honor of the United States'”

Trump angers his right-wing media allies

Oliver Darcy emails: Trump’s allies in right-wing media are not very happy with Trump backing down from his threats to shut down the government if his border wall is not funded. Breitbart called it a “cave.” The Drudge Report framed it as “TRUMP IN RETREAT.” And Rush Limbaugh fumed on his Wednesday radio show that “Trump’s gonna get less than nothing.” In fact, the top story on as I type this out is the headline, “TRUMP BACKERS FRUSTRATED: Top conservative figures decry signs of ‘gutless’ retreat on border wall.” Yikes…

Broken promises before Christmas?

“There were four signature Trump promises, and they all seem to be crumbling tonight,” Chris Cuomo said Wednesday night. He ticked through the border wall, “defeating ISIS,” a soaring stock market and… Trump’s claim that “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

The consensus view across the mediasphere on Wednesday night: The US exit from Syria is a victory for Russia. Ana Navarro quipped, “I know what he gave Vladimir Putin for Christmas…”

>> David Axelrod asked on Twitter: “How much of this is just his wanting to change the subject?”

Read more of Wednesday’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…

Weinstein in court on Thursday

Chloe Melas emails: It’s been 14 months since the first allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein. Now comes a potential day of reckoning for the disgraced movie mogul.

Weinstein is expected in a New York courtroom Thursday for what will be a pivotal pretrial hearing in his criminal case. He is facing five felony charges: two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree and one count each of first-degree rape and third-degree rape. He has pleaded not guilty.

— What led up to this point? Read Chloe’s full story here…

— Mark Morales and Jean Casarez will be in court for CNN’s coverage on Thursday… Check for updates…