Buzzfeed News has won a lawsuit brought by a Russian businessman named in the so-called “dirty dossier”, which included lurid allegations about Donald Trump, that was published by the news website last year.
Buzzfeed argued that the dossier, created by former British spy Christopher Steele, was in the public interest because it had been shown to then-President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump.
- February 25, 2021
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But it faced intense media criticism for disclosing the details in an article published in January 2017, although it reported that the files included “unverified and potentially unverifiable allegations”.
The 35-page dossier included claims about supposed Kompromat obtained by Russian intelligence services against Trump, none of which had been substantiated and all of which Trump denies.
Businessman Alexei Gubarev was also named in the dossier and sued Buzzfeed for defamation. He denies all allegations made against him.
On Wednesday, US District Judge Ursula Ungaro found in favour of Buzzfeed, saying it was protected by the “fair report privilege” under New York Civil Rights Law in publishing the dossier in full.
This law means civil action cannot be taken against a person or company for “the publication of a fair and true report of any judicial proceeding, legislative proceeding or other official proceeding”.
Judge Ungaro said the article was “fair and true” because Buzzfeed published the dossier without editorialising and therefore did not make any misstatements about the allegations against Gubarev.
In a statement, Buzzfeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith (pictured) said: “When we published the Steele Dossier in 2017, we were met with outrage from many corners — a major news anchor and President Trump both deemed it ‘fake news’ and several Russian businessmen, plus Michael Cohen, sued for defamation.
“Today, almost two years later, a federal judge has vindicated our decision. As Judge Ungaro affirmed in her ruling, a key principle underlying the First Amendment is that the public has a right to know about actions taken by its government.
“As we have said from the start, a document that had been circulating at the highest levels of government, under active investigation by the FBI, and briefed to two successive presidents, is clearly the subject of ‘official action’.
“Moreover its publication has contributed to the American people’s understanding of what is happening in their country and their government.
“We are thrilled by today’s outcome and thank Judge Ungaro for taking the time to consider this case on the merits.”
Picture: Reuters/Gus Ruelas