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The misguided rationale behind Trump’s lawsuit against CNN

The problem is not just the fact that Donald Trump has filed another doomed lawsuit. The problem is also the motivation behind the litigation.


Donald Trump has an unfortunate habit of threatening to sue perceived foes, including major news organizations, and in many instances, the Republican doesn’t bother to follow through. As we recently discussed, the threats themselves appear to be little more than post-presidential chest-thumping.

There are, however, occasional exceptions.

Trump’s campaign filed suit against CNN, for example, and it didn’t turn out well. Trump also sued The New York Times, which also proved pointless. The Republican’s suit against social media giants was also dismissed. As NBC News reported, it’s apparently CNN’s turn again.

Former President Donald Trump sued CNN alleging defamation on Monday, accusing the news network of taking persistent actions aimed at “defeating him politically.” According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Southern Florida, Trump alleged CNN has maliciously made false and defamatory statements about him. He is seeking $475 million in punitive damages, as well as compensatory damages to be determined at trial.

If the former president is hoping to see this litigation succeed, he should probably lower his expectations. A Washington Post analysis explained that the lawsuit is “riddled with factual errors and non sequiturs” and “leans heavily on random Twitter users.”

My MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown took a closer look at the specific claims raised by Trump’s lawyers and concluded, “All told, this is less a case of defamation and more a case of crying ‘they were mean to me.’”

The next question then becomes one of motivation: Why bother with this misguided case?

Part of the problem is with Trump’s twisted view of the First Amendment. The former president clearly has no use for a free press — he has echoed Stalin and literally described his own country’s independent news organizations as the “enemy of the people” — or the right of Americans to criticize those in positions of power.

Another dimension to this is the Republican’s not-so-subtle intimidation campaigns. As the Post’s analysis added, Trump “files frivolous lawsuits aimed at intimidating his critics,” and this case against CNN is obviously part of the larger pattern.

But let’s not overlook this Bloomberg report, which highlighted one of the most important angles:

Less than 24 hours after filing suit against CNN, former President Donald Trump is asking his supporters to donate to his cause. “I am SUING the Corrupt News Network (CNN) for DEFAMING and SLANDERING my name,” the potential 2024 presidential candidate said in a fund raising email Tuesday that encouraged supporters to contribute $5 or more. “Remember, when they come after ME, they are really coming after YOU.”

If this approach sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination: Last year, Trump filed a foolish lawsuit against Facebook and Twitter. Within hours of announcing the doomed case, Trump’s political action committee used it as the basis for an appeal to donors.

These frivolous lawsuits are barely lawsuits at all. They’re fundraising gimmicks from a politician who’s a little too eager to separate his followers from their money.