New York Times faces extended ban on Project Veritas coverage

by Reuters
Tuesday, 23 November 2021 21:37 GMT

(Adds details from hearing, background, bylines)

By Helen Coster and Jonathan Stempel

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Nov 23 (Reuters) - A New York trial judge on Tuesday extended a ban keeping the New York Times from publishing some materials concerning the conservative activist group Project Veritas, a restriction the newspaper said violated decades of First Amendment protections.

Justice Charles Wood of the Westchester County Supreme Court said his temporary ban imposed on Nov. 18 will run at least until Dec. 1, a deadline for Project Veritas to respond in writing to the Times' bid to end it.

The judge granted the extension after a 1-3/4-hour hearing in White Plains, which was part of a defamation lawsuit that Project Veritas filed against the Times last year.

Project Veritas, led by James O'Keefe, has used what critics view as deceptive tactics to expose what it describes as liberal media bias.

It has objected to a Nov. 11 Times article that drew from memos from a Project Veritas lawyer, and purported to reveal how the group worked with its lawyers to "gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws."

Wood said as the hearing began that the case involved a clash between two "bedrock principles" of law: "freedom of the speech and freedom of the press, and attorney-client privilege."

Neither the Times nor Project Veritas was immediately available for comment.

Project Veritas had been suing over a Sept. 2020 Times article describing a video the group released that alleged voter fraud connected to the campaign of U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat.

Dean Baquet, the Times' executive editor, has said the publication ban was an unconstitutional prior restraint and set a "dangerous precedent."

The newspaper has said prior restraints might be acceptable to courts only "rarely," such as to protect national security.

Joel Kurtzberg, a lawyer for the Times, told Wood a longer ban in the Project Veritas case could have broad, negative ramifications for journalists.

"What Project Veritas is seeking here is not about the continued use of information within this litigation, but limiting what journalists report and do outside this litigation," Kurtzberg said.

Libby Locke, a lawyer for Project Veritas, countered that the Times' use of the memos "compromises the uninhibited, robust communication between a client and lawyer."

Project Veritas is also the subject of a Justice Department probe into its possible role in the theft of a diary from President Joe Biden's daughter Ashley, pages of which were published on National File, a right-wing website.

The Times has not faced any prior restraint since 1971, when the Nixon administration unsuccessfully sought to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers detailing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. (Reporting by Helen Coster in White Plains, New York and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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