CNN Could Be Forced to Pay Upwards of $1 Billion from Defamation Suit from Tapper Show

June 24th, 2024 6:00 AM

The case may not be as well known (yet), but CNN could be facing a defamation liability rivaling or exceeding the $787 million Fox News paid out to Dominion Voting Systems. NewsBusters recently reported on Florida’s First District Court of Appeals affirming that plaintiff Zachary Young could seek punitive damages, in addition to economic and emotional damages, from the Cable News Network in a civil trial after they allegedly defamed him regarding his work in getting people out of Afghanistan. The total could near or exceed $1 billion.

For that outcome to be remotely in the cards, Young needed to prove malice and according to the ruling, he’s done exactly 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,” Judge L. Clayton Roberts wrote in the court’s ruling.

The court felt the high bars for actual and expressed malice were met because of internal CNN messages that were extremely vicious toward Young. Correspondent  Alex Marquardt, the “primary reporter” expressed in a message to a colleague that he wanted to “nail this Zachary Young mfucker” and thought the story would be Young’s “funeral.” On that declaration of wanting to “nail” Young, CNN editor Matthew Philips responded: “gonna hold you to that cowboy!”

Alongside Marquardt, CNN senior editor Fuzz Hogan, who’s a member of CNN’s internally lauded “Triad” of editorial, legal, and standards/practices oversight personnel, described Young as “a shit.”

In an interview with NewsBusters, Vel Freedman, the lawyer representing Young, said that “everyone makes mistakes” but what CNN’s messages showed was a “systemic problem” inside the network. He added that their internal mechanism for accountability had “clearly failed” and opened themselves to “massive, massive liability.”

Freedman told NewsBusters that his client had lost between $40-60 million in economic opportunity over the course of his now-damaged career as a security contractor since people in the field no longer wanted to work with him. If a jury awarded his client for emotional damages, the upper end could be as high as $600 million. The court recognizing the malice and outrageous conduct by CNN, effectively removed the cap on punitive damages in the State of Florida.

All of that meant CNN could be facing upwards of $1 billion in total damages.



The case hinged on CNN’s use of the phrases “black market” and “exploited” to describe Young’s legitimate business helping corporately sponsored Afghans escape the country as it collapsed around them and the Taliban retook control. Young’s clients included Audible and Bloomberg News - one of CNN’s industry peers, and he saved 24 people.

Freedman said CNN essentially “branded [Young] a human trafficker” and a “war profiteer” and broadcasted it to millions of households.

Jake Tapper, the host whose show the allegedly defamatory story ran on (The Lead), also made a point to note that people seeking escape were given “no guarantee of safety or success.” Yet, at no point could CNN prove that what Young was doing was a scam. In fact, their editors admitted in messages that couldn’t find evidence of it.

In a filing submitted by Freedman, a message from a CNN editor - uncovered during discovery - expressed concern with the story: “Digital decided not to publish a digital version from Alex. They told me it was bc we could not answer the question is this a scam.”

Another read: “It’s not clear to me if everyone is being ripped off or if some people pay up and get out. And that’s pretty crucial! . . . If he doesn’t know the answer to that fundamental question I’d say we really need to pause this until we find out.” One more described the story as “full of holes like Swiss cheese.”

When asked about the possibility of a settlement, Freedman told NewsBusters there was “no active settlement discussion” and that it was “so far off the table.” He also said there was “zero chance this case gets stopped before trial” and that the goal was to “take CNN to task.”

In a statement to NewsBusters, Freedman added: "CNN claims to be the “most trusted name in news,” but their internal documents show that the only thing you can “trust” CNN to do, is ignore the facts, push an agenda, and hurt innocent people. We’re looking forward to trial."

After more than three days, CNN did not respond to NewsBusters' multiple requests for comment.

When Marquardt notified Young that CNN would be publishing a story about him, Young was only given two hours to respond. And when Young did respond, Marquardt messaged a colleague, “fucking Young just texted.”

“CNN’s internal messages are indicative of a cowboy culture that cares more about clicks than accountability. In fact, CNN promoted the primary reporter on the story after this lawsuit was filed, indicating this kind of journalism is not only tolerated at CNN—it’s rewarded,” Joe Delich, Freedman’s legal partner told NewsBusters.