While the internal documents Elon Musk dumped onto Twitter turned out not to have been the smoking gun on Hunter Biden that Republicans had been hoping for, it did contain some information on Representative Adam Schiff that might lead to legal action.
According to the documents, Schiff lobbied Twitter to get a journalist, Paul Sperry, banned from the social media site back in the fall of 2020 during the first impeachment of President Trump. Sperry is a senior reporter for RealClearInvestigations.com and a columnist for the New York Post. He told Fox News that he was targeted by Schiff for reporting on sources Democrats were relying on during the impeachment trial.
The source in question was an anonymous whistleblower, who according to Schiff was entitled by the Whistleblower Protection Act to have their identity protected. By revealing the whistleblower’s identity, Sperry arguably put their career in jeopardy and perhaps their safety. But Sperry argues Schiff had another motive for targeting and blocking his ability to communicate to the public.
Sperry argues that his reporting enabled the public to learn that the whistleblower had also worked in the White House under the Obama administration and had ties to a member of Schiff’s staff which was a conflict of interest.
Sperry says Twitter never gave him a reasonable explanation for his account’s suspension, even though he claims he did not break any of the company’s rules. Sperry alleges Schiff was violating his free speech and the freedom of the press by lobbying to get him banned from a very popular social media site that can help him promote his career and give people access a huge audience. Schiff arguably set out to harm Sperry simply for disclosing his arguable conflict of interest but argues he did it to protect the integrity of his investigation and the whistleblower’s important right to privacy. So this matter involves competing interests and very different versions of the parties’ motives.
Sperry has said that Schiff’s involvement inhibited his ability to do his job as a reporter for the next two years. No lawsuit has been announced as of this writing, but Sperry has said he is exploring his options, including potentially suing Schiff for defamation.
If Sperry does decide to sue for defamation, he’ll have a hard time making a case. As a journalist who appears in many media venues and promotes himself, he’s likely to fit the definition of a public figure, which has a higher bar to clear when filing a defamation lawsuit. For a public figure to successfully sue for defamation, the figure needs to prove that the statements made about them were false, that the person making the statements knew they were false at the time, and that the statements were made with the intention of causing them financial harm.
Sperry will have a hard time meeting those requirements if the statements Schiff said about him were true, especially since Schiff did not make the statements publicly and arguably did it to serve important public policy. However, Schiff may have crossed a line if he interfered with Perry’s right to post on twitter by making false statements that he knew were false and designed conceal a conflict of interest.
At Lubin Austermuehle, we help clients navigate the complex laws and emotionally charged pathways to a court victory or settlement in slander and libel cases, as well as a vast range of other disputes from class action suits to breach of contract. We serve clients throughout Chicagoland from Waukegan, to Skokie and beyond. You can contact us online here or call us on our toll-free number at 833-306-4933 or locally at 630-333-0333. Take advantage of our FREE consultation, where we can discuss your specific needs and wishes and our ability to meet them.