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‘Evidence of actual malice’: CNN faces defamation suit involving Tapper ahead of debate


A story covered by CNN in 2021 that focused on the disastrous withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is now at the center of a defamation lawsuit.

“Judges with the First District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida ruled on June 12 that the plaintiff, Zachary Young, offered enough evidence that he was able to move forward with a defamation suit against CNN for punitive damages,” Fox News reported Monday. “Young alleges that CNN smeared his security consulting company, Nemex Enterprises Inc., by implying it illegally profited when helping people flee Afghanistan during the Biden administration’s military withdrawal from the country in 2021.”

Ahead of Thursday’s presidential debate between President Biden and former President Trump, the network is facing the allegations stemming from the report presented on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” anchored by Tapper who is moderating this week’s debate along with Dana Bash.

The court document stated that Young “sufficiently proffered evidence of actual malice, express malice, and a level of conduct outrageous enough to open the door for him to seek punitive damages,” Fox News reported. “Whether Young can ultimately prevail is not the issue before us.”

The plaintiff, a U.S. Navy veteran, contended CNN “destroyed his reputation and business by branding him an illegal profiteer who exploited desperate Afghans” in the November 11, 2021 edition of “The Lead.”

“Afghans trying to get out of the country face a black market full of promises, demands of exorbitant fees, and no guarantee of safety or success,” Tapper had said in the segment as he tossed to CNN correspondent Alex Marquardt.

As the reporter noted “desperate Afghans are being exploited” and have to pay “exorbitant, often impossible amounts” to flee the country, he used Young as an example of the costs allegedly being charged, with a picture of Young being displayed on the screen.

“We got Young’s number and called, but he didn’t pick up,” Marquardt reported, after noting that the prices being charged to transport fleeing residents were “well beyond the reach of most Afghans,”

“In a text message, he told CNN that ‘Afghans trying to leave are expected to have sponsors pay for them. If someone reached out, we need to understand if they have a sponsor behind them to be able to pay evacuation costs which are highly volatile and based on environmental realities,’” Marquardt continued. “Young repeatedly declined to break down the cost or say if he’s making money.”

“In another message, that person offering those evacuations, Zachary Young, he wrote, ‘Availability is extremely limited and demand is high’ … he goes on to say, ‘That’s how economics works, unfortunately,’” Marquardt told CNN viewers as Tapper responded, “Unfortunately, hmm.”

According to legal filings that referred to internal CNN emails:

“Young proffered CNN messages and emails that showed internal concern about the completeness and veracity of the reporting—the story is ‘a mess,’ ‘incomplete,’ not ‘fleshed out for digital,’ ‘the story is 80% emotion, 20% obscured fact,’ and ‘full of holes like Swiss cheese.’”

Young proffered internal communication showing, at minimum, CNN employees had little regard for him. In those messages, CNN employees called him a “shi–bag” and “a-hole” and remarked they were “going to nail this Zachary Young mfucker.” Marquardt referred to him as “f–king Young” and quipped, “it’s your funeral bucko.” (…) Young sufficiently proffered evidence of actual malice, express malice, and a level of conduct outrageous enough to open the door for him to seek punitive damages.


The Media Research Center’s NewsBusters reported that “CNN has since deleted the segment in question from their CNN Transcripts archive page” and “There’s no note about the missing segment.”

“On appeal, CNN argues it did not intend to harm; its language was either opinion or ambiguous; and the internal communications were journalistic bravado that reflected a sincere belief in the reporting,” the judges wrote.

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