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Lawyers for Buzzfeed in ‘King of Bullshit News’ libel case accuse Press Gazette of running ‘utterly false story’

By Dominic Ponsford

Lawyers acting for Buzzfeed in the US have accused Press Gazette of publishing an “utterly false” report about the media giant’s libel battle with Michael Leidig and his agency Central European News.

Leidig is seeking $11m in libel damages from Buzzfeed over an April 2015 article which branded him “The King of Bullshit News”.

Lawyers for Buzzfeed have complained to the judge in New York about a Press Gazette story, published on 28 April, headlined: “Buzzfeed bid to grab Press Gazette emails about ‘King of Bullshit News’ dispute rejected by US judge.”

This reported on discussion of an application made by Buzzfeed under the 1970 Hague convention which sought email communications between Press Gazette and Leidig.

Press Gazette has produced numerous reports chronicling the dispute between Leidig and Buzzfeed.

The story said: “Press Gazette understands that Buzzfeed’s request for international judicial assistance was rejected because the judge did not feel it would uncover important evidence relevant to the case.

“The judge in the case also asked Buzzfeed’s lawyers whether they had tried calling Press Gazette to obtain the information they required, to which they replied that they had not.”

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The 59-page Buzzfeed request for international judicial assistance to depose Press Gazette and seek the production of email communications from publisher Progressive Media can be viewed at this link: BuzzFeedmotion (1).

Lawyer Katherine Bolger wrote to judge Gorenstein on 2 May saying: “Your Honor has acknowledged that it is ‘obvious’ that Mr. Leidig is ‘feeding’ information to Mr Ponsford and the Press Gazette.

“And Plaintiff Michael Leidig admitted in the early stages of discovery to being a source for at least one of the two Press Gazette articles.

“Nevertheless, Defendant, after informing the Court that it did not seek any confidential newsgathering information from Mr. Ponsford or the Press Gazette, also stated that it would ‘wait until such time as we receive documents from Mr. Leidig’ before pursuing the Letter of Request.”

Talking about the Press Gazette report that the Buzzfeed request had been rejected, Bolger said:  “…this is not an accurate representation of either the conference or Your Honor’s order.

“Given that there was no press at the conference, nor was a transcript even available, it appears that Plaintiffs or their counsel have continued to ‘feed’ information — albeit incorrect information — to the Press Gazette.

“Particularly in light of the fact that the Plaintiffs claim that the article at issue in this litigation defamed them by saying they published ‘fake news’, we thought it worth calling this utterly false Press Gazette story to your attention.”

Press Gazette emailed Bolger yesterday to seek clarification about the matter. She did not respond.

Press Gazette has now seen a transcript of the US hearing at which the Buzzfeed bid to depose Press Gazette was discussed, on 12 April.

Lawyers for Buzzfeed in fact appear to have decided not to pursue the letter of request, for the time being. Although the judge appeared to give the matter a cool reception, he did not reject it outright – saying rather “let’s put this off”.

The judge also suggests that instead of using the Hague Convention process the lawyers might try the telephone.

Here is the relevant section of the transcript in full:

THE COURT: Well, I know there hasn’t been objection the letter request but I’m very concerned about it becausewe’re dragging a non party and an entire court system from other country into something and I’m not convinced that doing that is proportional to the needs of this case. So I’m very mystified by this request. Go ahead.

MS. BOLGER: Your Honor, if you know that the plaintiff wrote a book about the lawsuit and he also has admitted to interacting with the Press Gazette and planting stories essentially about the lawsuit in the Press Gazette.  We would like Mr. Leidig to tell us what he has said to the Press Gazette and what he has given to it.

THE COURT: No problem. No problem with that.

MS. BOLGER: Well, we haven’t gotten that yet, Your Honor, and the letter request was designed to in fact fill a void which is to say if we can’t get it from Mr. Leidig we were trying to get it from Mr. Pomsford [sic].

THE COURT: Let’s do this. You do everything you can before you bother these people. If you think you have a good case after that I will be happy — I know it takes time but I can’t see doing it on the current record. There’s just too many other sources and it’s not central to your case. It’s just one —

MS. BOLGER: It is central. One of our problems, Your Honor, is that having disabled all of his websites and wiped out his online presence the plaintiff has himself made it difficult for us to establish his public figure status, right? One of the things Mr. Pomsford wrote about and knows about is Mr. Leidig’s representation as a public figure in this world. Remember, Your Honor, we’ve had almost —

THE COURT: From some source other than Leidig and if so, why wouldn’t those sources be available to you?

MS. BOLGER: Well, Your Honor, he’s wiped them out. I mean they’re gone. He’s wiped out his online presence.

THE COURT: Your contention —

MS. BOLGER: And we’ve gotten no documents from the plaintiff.

THE COURT: Let me just finish my sentence. Your contention is that these people in England saw those sites before they were wiped out?

MS. BOLGER: Your Honor, if you read Mr. Pomsford’s article he talks about how Mr. Leidig is a competitor of Buzzfeed and he’s seen his news gathering and he in some sense vouches for the prominence of Mr. Leidig or CEN.

To be clear, Your Honor, and I think this is really important. Buzzfeed is obviously not seeking news gathering materials nor would they seek to compel them if Mr. Pomsford were to say that those are my news gathering materials. Mr. Pomsford [sic] wrote an article about the prominence of Mr. Leidig and some of that information isn’t privileged. In the absence of anything from the plaintiff he’s a good source of us for that information about the public figure status.

THE COURT: If you read the articles it’s obvious just Leidig feeding him whatever Leidig said. Leidig is being quoted. The thing is what the thing is. It’s just trying to think what is it that you actually would get from them that would enlarge your understanding of Leidig’s public figure status.

MS. BOLGER: At the moment, Your Honor, I have zero evidence of Leidig’s public figure status because Mr. Leidig hasn’t given me anything and being able to talk to Mr. Pomsford about what he knows about it, what CEN was and what its reputation was in England is of value to me in establishing

THE COURT: Why [inaudible] rather than 10,000 people, other people in England or —

MS. BOLGER: Because

THE COURT: Or some sociologist — I don’t know who opines on public figure status —

MS. BOLGER: Because

THE COURT: Let me just finish my sentences everyone. It seems like you’re — you are picking on this person because they actually spoke to Leidig and then repeated what Leidig said to them but I don’t see why that gives you much if at all information about this larger question of whether he’s a public figure.

MS. BOLGER: Because as you say, Your Honor, he is being fed information by Mr. Leidig and Mr. Leidig’s sense of himself as a public figure is obviously quite relevant to whether he’s a public figure.

THE COURT: So your hope is that there might be something that wasn’t in this article in which this person who wrote it said oh, Leidig told me he was like a really big  famous person.

MS. BOLGER: No, my thought is that Mr. Pomsford would say first of all, if Mr. Pomsford were to say I don’t want to talk to you about my sources we would not compel him to speak about those sources. But if Mr. Pomsford were to say to us in the absence of Mr. Leidig’s testimony if Mr. Leidig provides me documents and testimony about what he told Mr. Pomsford I actually agree with you, Your Honor. I don’t need Mr. Pomsford quite as badly. But if I were to not get that information from Mr. Leidig I would like to have a conversation with Mr. Pomsford about Mr. Leidig’s reputation. Why he wrote this article.

You don’t write articles about small players. You write articles about big players. I’d like to know what Mr. Leidig told —

THE COURT: Have you tried calling Mr. Pomsford? Just curious.

MS. BOLGER: Have I tried to no, I have not.

THE COURT: I’m not saying you have to do it this way but maybe a conversation would get you what you need. Is that possible? A declaration.

MS. BOLGER: I think it’s highly unlikely, Your Honor, because Mr. Pomsford has written three more articles critical of Buzzfeed. So I think it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to be able to talk to him without some help from Your Honor but I also think assuming that we could get back to you quickly, Your Honor, if we found a letter of request to be something we needed. I think we would agree to wait until such time as we receive documents from Mr. Leidig.

THE COURT: All right. So let’s put this off.

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