President Donald Trump ramped up his war against the so-called “fake news” Friday, as the president’s personal attorney Charles J. Harder sent a letter to CNN threatening legal action. In line with Trump’s previous attacks against the network, Harder—who’s best known for representing Hulk Hogan in the lawsuit that took down Gawker—takes issue with CNN’s “biased reporting practices relating to our clients” in the letter, accusing the company of unlawfully misleading the public by branding themselves as legitimate journalists. “Never in the history of this country has a President been the subject of such a sustained barrage of unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful attacks by so-called ‘mainstream’ news, as the current situation,” Harder writes.
The president’s threatened lawsuit comes as the right-wing activist organization Project Veritas has targeted CNN in recent weeks through an “Expose CNN” project, which is leaking selectively edited comments made by CNN employees. The audio released thus far includes CNN staffers making statements that Project Veritas believes betrays the network’s supposed liberal bias, such as that CNN President Jeff Zucker “[has] had an ongoing feud with Trump since The Apprentice,” and that anchor Don Lemon, “love him or hate him, he’s blatantly anti-Trump, he’s blatantly left.” Many observers both outside of and within CNN have taken Project Veritas’s efforts with a grain of salt, particularly given that the organization’s past attempts to expose supposed media bias have typically been discredited. “I’m not blown away by the content of it,” Fox News host Jesse Watters said on air Tuesday. “I think that the president of CNN saying, ‘We gotta follow impeachment, we gotta follow hard’ is not breaking news. Or, that he said, ‘Let’s call out Lindsey Graham,’ or that he said ‘Fox News is destructive.’ He’s said that out in the open many, many times.”
Unsurprisingly, the Expose CNN project has nevertheless garnered Trump’s enthusiastic support. “Does this sound like a good, or even great, lawsuit?” Trump tweeted Monday about Project Veritas’s supposed findings, before suggesting Tuesday that Zucker would be “resigning momentarily” after Project Veritas exposed CNN as a “virtual fraud.” (The response from CNN Global Vice President of Communications Matt Dornic: “lol.”) Harder’s letter cites Project Veritas’s CNN footage extensively, saying that “[CNN’s] employees appear to state that CNN attempts to make its reporting appear neutral and unbiased, when in fact its reporting is far from neutral and highly biased against the President.” The lawyer alleges that the statements are evidence of CNN’s violation of the Lanham Act, which prohibits false advertising, by going against CNN’s public branding as “the Most Trusted Name in News.” “Accordingly, my clients intend to file legal action against you,” Harder writes, suggesting that an “appropriate resolution” would include “a substantial payment of damages, as well as all other appropriate measures that are necessary to fully address the magnitude of the situation.” (CNN has shrugged off the letter, saying in a statement, “This is nothing more than a desperate PR stunt and doesn’t merit a response.”)
The threatened lawsuit marks Trump’s latest attack on the media, which has included efforts to smear journalists and news outlets; take away White House press passes; and previous threats of legal action. Trump has yet to actually file a lawsuit against any of his media foes, however—and experts suggested Friday that should he actually follow through this time around, he likely won’t be successful. “This is an absolutely ridiculous letter,” lawyer Ted Boutrous, who represented CNN in their successful lawsuit against the Trump administration, wrote on Twitter. “No serious lawyer would ever think of sending such a frivolous letter making such a baseless threat.” First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told Mediaite that the lawsuit would be a “self-evident non-starter,” given that “CNN’s decisions as to what to cover and how to do so are fully protected by the First Amendment.” National security lawyer Bradley Moss suggested that the potential lawsuit is more of “a PR stunt being pursued for political reasons” than an actual attempt to win damages, saying that even if the lawsuit’s claims were “viable”—which Moss says is “doubtful”—“the purpose of any such lawsuit is no doubt completely untethered to the idea of ‘winning’ in court.” “This threat of a possible lawsuit is nothing more than pure theatrics, pure and simple,” Moss told Mediaite.
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