Last month, for reasons that still don’t make a lot of sense, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) filed a lawsuit against Twitter and some of the platform’s users, seeking more than $250 million, in part because the Republican saw tweets that hurt his feelings. The practical effects were immediate: a satirical Twitter feed called “Devin Nunes’ Cow” went from relative obscurity to over 600,000 followers thanks entirely to the congressman’s litigation.
Less than a month after suing Twitter for allowing its users to insult him, Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, said he was suing the McClatchy Company, a newspaper chain, over what he called “character assassination.”
The defamation lawsuit seeks $150 million and the deletion of an article in The Fresno Bee, a McClatchy newspaper, about Alpha Omega Winery, a company that Mr. Nunes partially owns. The article, published last May, described a lawsuit by a server who was aboard a San Francisco Bay cruise in 2015 attended by some of the winery’s top investors, which she said included drugs and prostitution.
For what it’s worth, the Fresno Bee’s article appears to have made clear that it was “unclear” whether Nunes “was aware of the lawsuit or was affiliated with the fund-raiser” at which the cruise was auctioned. What’s more, reporters on the story reached out to the congressman for comment – he declined – and after the article was published, neither Nunes nor his office asked for a correction.
Several months after the article ran, the California Republican was re-elected to Congress.
Nevertheless, the congressman would like $150 million from the newspaper’s parent company. Nunes sees his case as one about “character assassination,” and he touted the case on Fox News last night.
Legal experts can speak to this with more authority than I can, but it’s probably a safe bet that this lawsuit will not struggle in the courts – the First Amendment still exists – which, naturally, raises the question of why Nunes filed the case.
Only the congressman and his lawyers know for sure, but as we discussed after he filed his first case a month ago, I suspect it’s part of a misguided political game: in the coming weeks and months, Nunes will be able to send out fundraising appeals, bragging about being the one member brave enough to take on a dastardly newspaper and Twitter at the same time. We’ll likely see him heralded in conservative media and applauded at far-right gatherings.
The litigation that should embarrass Nunes will quickly become a point of great pride, and because our politics are too often twisted, the effort will almost certainly elevate his status as a cause celebre in Republican circles.
And if a judge throws out the case as meritless, it will likely lead to a new phase of fundraising in which the California Republican rails against the liberal judiciary that refused to punish those who had the audacity to hurt the poor congressman’s feelings.
In reality, a lawsuit like this should do lasting harm to Nunes’ reputation. In contemporary Republican politics, however, it will probably work wonders for his career.
Postscript: In his new case, it appears the congressman’s lawyers were confused about how Twitter searches work.