The media outlet Buzzfeed has been in the news for publishing unverified information regarding Donald Trump, based on a quite likely fake intelligence dossier.
This has called into question the journalistic ethics governing Buzzfeed. This has hurt their credibility as a news source.
However, that is not the only problems the folks at Buzzfeed now have to worry about.
There is also this, as reported by the Daily Caller:
“The organization elected to publish a 35-page dossier claiming Russian operatives had compromising personal and financial information about the president-elect and others in his orbit. The documents were compiled by a former British intelligence officer working for a private intelligence firm in London at the behest of Trump’s political opponents. They were later shared with Democratic political operatives and members of Congress.
If the salacious allegations in the document cache prove false, an individual named in the documents may have cause to bring a libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed.
Though the prospect of a sitting president bringing a civil suit against a media organization seems far-fetched, Trump aides outside the administration who are implicated in the documents could move forward with their own actions. Michael Cohen, counsel for the Trump Organization and an individual named in the documents, is a likely candidate in this regard.”
There are different legal standards applied in a defamation case depending on whether the individual defamed is a private or public figure. Donald Trump, of course, is a public figure. Some other people mentioned in the dossier Buzzfeed relied on for it’s story would also be considered public figures, based on their prominent position in relation to Trump.
For a public figure to prevail on a claim of libel, he would need to prove false statements combined with actual malice. Malice, in this context, means actual knowledge that a statement is false or reckless disregard as to whether the statement was true.
However, if a court determined that, say, a campaign staffer appearing by name in the dossier is a private figure, then an entirely different legal standard would be applied.
In a libel case, a public figure needs to show false written statements with actual malice made by the defendant. However, a private figure bringing a libel claim need only prove that the defendant was negligent in publishing a false statement that was defamatory.
Buzzfeed’s Editor-in-Chief has acknowledged to it’s staff that there was “serious reason to doubt the allegations.” Also acknowledged was that the information in the document they published was unverified.
The elements for a libel suit against Buzzfeed could very well be in place. Buzzfeed could well be in some serious legal trouble.