President Trump might be the most well-known person to accuse CNN of publishing “fake news,” but he certainly isn’t the only one.
In Georgia, a former hospital CEO has launched a legal battle against the news network after he was forced to resign over what he claims were a “series of false and defamatory news reports” — reports that he says CNN “intentionally” skewed in order to sensationalize the story.
On Wednesday, a federal district judge announced an early ruling in favor of that CEO, Davide Carbone, declaring that CNN had “recklessly” reported that Carbone’s hospital had an infant mortality rate that was three times the national average:
CNN’s years-long investigation — which was featured on Anderson Cooper’s show “AC360” beginning in 2011 — focused on Florida’s St. Mary’s Medical Center and their children’s cardiac surgery program.
After the damning report prompted Carbone’s resignation, he filed a defamation lawsuit against the news network, claiming that CNN “misled its viewers” by knowingly comparing “more risky pediatric open-heart surgeries at St. Mary’s to a national average that included both open-heart and less risky closed-heart surgeries.”
As Carbone’s attorney L. Lin Wood explained to LawNewz.com:
“In our case, we contended that CNN essentially made up its own standard in order to conduct an ‘apples to oranges’ comparison to support its false assertion that St. Mary’s mortality rate was three times higher than the national average.
Accordingly, the case against CNN certainly fits the description of media-created ‘Fake News.'”
While CNN has tried to get the case thrown out of court, a ruling by Judge Orinda Evans on Wednesday seemed to effectively crush that effort, as she ordered that the lawsuit be allowed to move forward:
The Court finds these allegations sufficient to establish that CNN was acting recklessly with regard to the accuracy of its report, i.e., with ‘actual malice.’
— LawNewz (@law_newz) February 15, 2017
While the case clearly hasn’t played out fully yet, a victory for Carbone could strike a harsh blow against what are known as anti-SLAPP statutes.
Though a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is often used as a “tool for intimidating and silencing critics of businesses, often for environmental and local land development issues,” legal filings on behalf of CNN have also attempted to categorize Carbone’s lawsuit as a SLAPP.
Unfortunately for CNN, Judge Evans’ ruling — The Hollywood Reporter notes — has effectively rendered Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute “toothless.”
— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) February 17, 2017
For Carbone’s lawyer Wood, a victory in this lawsuit would prove to CNN that “false and defamatory accusations against real people have serious consequences,” adding:
“The ruling serves as a well-reasoned reminder that the media, its defense lawyers and its lobbyists do not have a corner on the market of correct interpretation and application of the First Amendment.”
In the end, a victory for Carbone could put news organizations in a much more vulnerable position when it comes to lawsuits from the public — a daunting situation, given that less than half of Americans say that they view the media as “truthful.”