Project Veritas is on a legal winning streak. After convincing a judge to block the publication by the New York Times of some memos about the group’s legal strategy — a rare “prior restraint” case approved by a court — the same judge has ordered the New York Times to return the memos.
The case involves Project Veritas suing the Times for defamation in 2020 over an article reporting on Project Veritas’ publication of pages from a diary belonging to the president’s daughter Ashley. In the article, the Times quoted from memos generated by the organization’s legal team. Project Veritas argued that publishing the memos intruded on its right to attorney-client privilege.
Naturally, the New York Times is screaming bloody murder for both the prior restraint decision and the order to return the documents. “Justice Wood has taken it upon himself to decide what The Times can and cannot report on. That’s not how the First Amendment is supposed to work,” opined a Times editorial.
The Times is right to fight any prior restraint. But, as the judge points out, this is an extremely narrow exception and was done in the interest of fairness to the plaintiff.
Wood said in Friday’s ruling that the Project Veritas legal memos were not a matter of public concern and that the group has a right to keep them private that outweighs concerns about freedom of the press.
“Steadfast fidelity to, and vigilance in protecting First Amendment freedoms cannot be permitted to abrogate the fundamental protections of attorney-client privilege or the basic right to privacy,” Wood wrote.
A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, said the newspaper would appeal the ruling.
The Times‘ self-serving editorial on the ruling rings hollow.
Journalism, like democracy, thrives in an environment of transparency and freedom. No court should be able to tell The New York Times or any other news organization — or, for that matter, Project Veritas — how to conduct its reporting. Otherwise, it would provide an incentive for any reporter’s subjects to file frivolous libel suits as a means of controlling news coverage about them. More to the point, it would subvert the values embodied by the First Amendment and hobble the functioning of the free press on which a self-governing republic depends.
“Transparency”? From the New York Times? Like all warnings from the left about “dire consequences” if they’re forced to follow the same rules as everyone else, the notion that a single ruling from a state judge will open the litigation floodgates and allow anyone who’s the subject of a negative story in the New York Times to sue is absurd. It’s a strawman argument, nothing more.
Any prior restraint by the government or the courts over any matter, be it the Pentagon Papers or legal memos from a Project Veritas suit, is troubling. But in this case, the carve-out for prior restraint is very narrow and — despite the hysterics from the New York Times editorial board — couldn’t become a general rule or standard practice if someone else decided to use it as precedent.