On Monday, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) filed a defamation lawsuit against The McClatchy Company, Liz Mair, and Mair Strategies, focusing on a May 2018 article that attempted to connect Nunes to allegations of a salacious event involving cocaine and prostitutes. The article also cast aspersions on Nunes’ investigation of alleged collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. He is demanding $150 million and more.
“McClatchy succeeded in linking the cocaine/sex-fueled ‘fundraiser’ with ‘prostitutes’ to Nunes. The defamatory meaning of the article was clearly understood by all who read and saw McClatchy’s publication,” the lawsuit reads.
The story focused on a seedy party in 2015 involving a winery the congressman is invested in.
As The Fresno Bee reported, Alene Anase filed a lawsuit against her former employer, Alpha Omega Winery, alleging that the employer forced her to serve wine to a group of men on an orgy cruise that constituted sexual harassment against her. The men, who according to winebusiness.com were not investors but had won a cruise in a charity fundraiser, allegedly made a racket, sleeping with prostitutes — some allegedly underage — and even loudly discussed their sex acts in Anase’s hearing after the party.
Since Alpha Omega Winery settled, it is unclear as to just how true Anase’s story was. The story certainly casts a pall on the men involved in this alleged orgy and the company’s decision to abet the harassment of female employees, but any connection to Nunes was always rather tenuous. Yes, Nunes invested in the winery a decade before the orgy. But the winery claims that investors do not manage the company, and whatever sort of disgusting orgy any other activities investors took part in did not involve Nunes.
“The defamatory implication (the gist) of McClatchy’s Yacht/Cocaine/Prostitutes story was that Nunes was involved in the cocaine/sex fueled ‘fundraiser,'” Nunes writes in the lawsuit. “This is immediately evident from the prominent placement of Nunes’ name alongside ‘prostitutes’ and ‘cocaine’ in the story’s headline (‘A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event’). The headline also materially mischaracterizes the event aboard the yacht as a ‘fundraiser.'”
“It was not a fundraiser at all,” the complaint continues. “It was a cruise resulting from a charitable donation. The McClatchy headline intentionally omitted the word ‘charity’ and labeled the event a ‘fundraiser’ in a clear effort to imply it was a political fundraising event that a politician like Congressman Nunes would naturally attend. Furthermore, the online versions of the story are punctuated by a prominent picture of Nunes and multiple film clips of him.”
“Indeed, the entire purpose of every element of the Yacht/Cocaine/Prostitutes article – the headline, the photo, the film clips, and the text itself – is to link Nunes to an event that McClatchy actually knew before publication he had no involvement with,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit notes that one newspaper, the Visalia Times-Delta, wrote that it “did not pursue the story because editors decided the lawsuit’s ties to Nunes were tenuous. There were no allegations that Nunes was involved in any way with the charity event, aside from being an investor in the winery.”
Nunes presents five ways in which the story and the Fresno Bee, which is owned by McClatchy, spread false statements in order to defame him. The story reported “it is unclear” whether Nunes was “affiliated with” the event (when he clearly was not), it claimed “it is unclear” whether he knew about Anase’s lawsuit, it claimed the winery sold wine to Russians while Nunes was leading the Trump-Russia investigation (later stealthily editing this claim), the Fresno Bee editorial board lied about originally stating this false claim, and a Fresno Bee senior vice president claimed the paper never issued a retraction when it had stealthily edited the story twice.
Ironically, Nunes falsely claims that author Mackenzie Mays emphasized the words “woman,” “Devin,” and “cocaine” in a tweet when in reality the bolded words merely show that Nunes’s lawyer was searching Twitter for those words.
— Matt Pearce 🦅 (@mattdpearce) April 9, 2019
This lawsuit comes a few weeks after Nunes sued Mair and Twitter for an orchestrated defamation campaign against him, demanding $250 million.
Nunes filed the McClatchy lawsuit in Virginia state court, Fox News reported. While defamation law prohibits heavy implications of falsities that harm defendants’ reputations, public figures like Nunes must meet a high bra to prove defamation. Virginia, like many other states, also includes protections for journalists and others accused of defamation in the form of an “anti-SLAPP statute.” Such laws prohibit a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”
The lawsuit demands compensatory damages to the tune of $150 million or greater, punitive damages in the amount of $350,000 or the maximum legal amount, an injunction against McClatchy, prejudgment interest from May 23, 2018 (the date the article was published) until the date of the judgment, post-judgment interest at the rate of 6 percent per year until it is paid, and attorney’s fees and costs.
A McClatchy spokesperson told Fox News, “We have no comment and stand behind the strong reporting of The Fresno Bee.”
For her part, Mair directed Fox News to a USA Today op-ed she wrote last week concerning Nunes’ previous lawsuit entitled, “Free speech means I don’t have to be nice to Devin Nunes on Twitter. So why’s he suing me?”
Mair also said she has not yet been served.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.