Trump campaign says it is suing New York Times over Russia opinion piece

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The lawsuit relates to a March 27, 2019, opinion article written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of the New York Times from 1986 to 1994

US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign said on Wednesday it was filing a libel suit accusing the New York Times of intentionally publishing a false opinion article that suggested Russia and the campaign had an overarching deal in the 2016 US election.

In an escalation of the Republican president’s long-running battle with the news media, campaign officials said the lawsuit was being filed in state court in New York.

Asked about the suit at a White House news conference later on Wednesday, Trump said the New York Times had “got a lot wrong over the last number of years.”

Trump said he would let the lawsuit “work its way through the courts. And there’ll be more coming.” He did not elaborate.

Separately, Trump assailed two other news organizations that he frequently criticizes, the cable TV news channels CNN and MSNBC, accusing them of presenting the danger from the coronavirus in as bad a light as possible and upsetting financial markets.

A campaign statement said the aim of the suit against the Times, among the most prominent American news organizations, was to hold the newspaper “accountable for intentionally publishing false statements against President Trump’s campaign.”

The lawsuit relates to a March 27, 2019, opinion article written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of the New York Times from 1986 to 1994.

A draft copy of the suit, attached to a campaign news release, accused the newspaper of “extreme bias against and animosity toward the campaign,” and cited what it called the Times’ “exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020.”

Trump is seeking re-election on November 3.

In a statement, a New York Times spokesperson said: “The Trump Campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable. Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”

The newspaper’s spokesperson said it had not been served with the suit and learned about it through media reports.

Trump’s criticism of what he calls liberal bias in the US news media plays well with his conservative political base and generates applause at his political rallies, where his supporters often jeer journalists. Trump regularly refers to various news media outlets as “fake news” and has called elements of the US news media “the enemy of the American people.” 

The New York Times was involved in a landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling that has served as a safeguard for media reporting on public figures. 

In the case New York Times vs. Sullivan, the court decided that the US Constitution’s First Amendment protection for freedom of the press allows even statements that are false to be published as long as the publication was not done with “actual malice.”

The suit, according to the draft copy released by the campaign, accused the newspaper of a “malicious motive” and “reckless disregard for the truth.”