CNN Presidential Debate Moderator Is at the Center of Defamation Suit

June 14th, 2024 1:46 PM

On Wednesday, three judges with the First District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida ruled that Plaintiff Zachary Young had sufficiently provided enough evidence to the court that they could proceed with his defamation suit against CNN for punitive damages. The network allegedly, knowingly lied about his security consulting company and their work amid President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Jake Tapper, one of CNN’s presidential debate moderators was one of the journalists at the center of it all.

The defamation suit stemmed from a segment on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper about Young’s company Nemex Enterprises Inc. and the prices they were allegedly charging to get people out of Afghanistan. Tapper led into the segment by painting an image of “black market” hustlers who charged “exorbitant fees” taking advantage of desperate people:

In our world today, the U.S. government, the Biden administration says that as of last week it had assisted in the departure of at least 377 U.S. citizens and 279 lawful permanent residents of the U.S. from Afghanistan since August 31st. Still, many Afghans, Afghans who desperately want to flee Taliban rule and Afghans who say their lives are at stake, they remain behind. As CNN's Alex Marquardt has discovered, 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.

A NewsBusters investigation found that CNN has since deleted the segment in question from their CNN Transcripts archive page for the November 11, 2021 episode of The Lead. There’s no note about the missing segment.

CNN correspondent Alex Marquardt singled out Young’s company, not mentioning any others known to be working in-country to get people out.



“According to Afghans and activists we've spoken with desperate Afghans are being exploited like that young man, told they can get them or their families out if they pay exorbitant often impossible amounts,” he said. “One LinkedIn user posted messages with Young, where Young said it would be $75,000 for a car to Pakistan. He told another, it would be 14 and a half thousand per person to get to the United Arab Emirates or Albania for another 4,000. Prices well beyond the reach of most Afghans.”

At no point did they mention anything about the dangers involved with getting people out of a country controlled by terrorists and freshly abandoned by the Biden administration. Those facts didn’t stop them from taking parting shots at Young as they concluded the segment:

MARQUARDT: In another message, that person offering those evacuations, Zackary Young, wrote “availability is extremely limited and demand is high.” Jake, he goes on to say, “that's how economics works, unfortunately.”

TAPPER: Unfortunately, Hmm. Alex Marquardt thanks so much for that important report.

But, according to legal filings, internal CNN emails allegedly show that they knew the story was not sound or backed up with facts. “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,’” the judges wrote.

The messages also allegedly showed that CNN reporters were operating out of malice for Young, a key component of a defamation suit:

Young proffered internal communication showing, at minimum, CNN employees had little regard for him. In those messages, CNN employees called him a “shitbag” and “a-hole” and remarked they were “going to nail this Zachary Young mfucker.” Marquardt referred to him as “fucking 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.

Though not a direct quote of CNN, the judges wrote that CNN’s defense for their internal attacks on Young was “journalistic bravado.”

Will Tapper put that journalistic bravado on display during the first presidential debate?