Buzzfeed News Offices in New York/REUTERS
December 19, 2018: The Judge Ruled That The Outlet Was Covered By Fair Report Privilege

A federal judge ruled in Buzzfeed’s favor in a lawsuit brought by Russian technology executive Aleksej Gubarev. Gubarev claimed that he was defamed in a dossier published by Buzzfeed in January 2017 that contained unverified reports of alleged ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.

Mr. Gubarev, whose name was mentioned toward the end of the memo, filed suit last February.

The judge ruled that Buzzfeed’s publication of the dossier was protected by the fair report privilege, which shields news outlets from legal action when publishing fair and true reports of official proceedings.

Buzzfeed published the 35-page memo, which was compiled by Christopher Steele at the request of Trump’s political opponents, with a caveat that many of the details in the report were “specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations.” The outlet’s rationale to publish the document was that although unverified, it had already been circulating among government officials, the intelligence community, and journalists and would allow its readers to decide as to the veracity of its claims.

Buzzfeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said in a statement after the ruling:

“As Judge Ungaro affirmed in her ruling, a key principle underlying the First Amendment is that the public has a right to know about actions taken by its government. As we have said from the start, a document that had been circulating at the highest levels of government, under active investigation by the F.B.I., and briefed to two successive presidents, is clearly the subject of ‘official action.’ Moreover, its publication has contributed to the American people’s understanding of what is happening in their country and their government.”

Just a day before this ruling, Buzzfeed suffered a legal setback when the judge ruled that Gubarev could not be considered a public figure for purposes of the defamation suit, which would have made it easier to pursue his claim if the suit were to move forward.

The New York Times Politico Bloomberg

Documents and Resources

Opinion Steele Dossier Smith Statement