Media

Newspaper publisher threatens to sue state lawmaker over 'fake news' claim

AP/Gregorio Borgia

A Colorado newspaper publisher has threatened to sue a state lawmaker for defamation after the lawmaker labeled the publication "fake news."

Jay Seaton, publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, issued the threat in an editorial published Wednesday, saying he takes the criticism "very seriously" because "it attacks the very reason for our existence."

"We have our own fake news in Grand Junction," Colorado state Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican, tweeted Feb. 8.

The tweet came after the newspaper published an editorial Saturday criticizing Scott for delaying a hearing on a bill aimed to reform Colorado's open records laws, according to the Coloradan.

"We call on our own Sen. Scott to announce a new committee hearing date and move this bill forward," the Feb. 8 editorial read. It added:

We have a difficult time understanding why anyone would oppose easier access to government data, which belongs to the public. Sen. Scott often stresses the importance of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which gives citizens a voice on fiscal policy by requiring voter approval of any tax hike. Easy access to public information should be no less a priority for lawmakers — especially when it so often informs voters on the very issues they’re called upon to decided.

Scott took to Twitter the same day the Daily Sentinel published the editorial critical of him, accusing the newspaper of playing politics.

"The very liberal GJ Sentinel is attempting to apply pressure for me to move a bill. They have no facts, as usual, and tried to call me out on SB 40 know as the [Colorado Open Records Act] bill. They haven't contacted me to get any information on why the bill has been delayed but choose to run a fake news story demanding I run the bill. You may have a barrel of ink but it just splashed in your face," Scott wrote.

Seaton fired back in a separate editorial published Saturday, saying the newspaper wasn't able to reach Scott while inquiring about why he postponed the hearing. The Colorado publisher then confronted Scott more directly, saying that he took the "fake news" label "very seriously."

"It attacks the very reason for our existence," Seaton wrote, noting the media's responsibility is to hold elected officials' feet to the fire.

"A tried-and-true method for avoiding that accountability is to undermine the credibility of the speaker," Seaton wrote. "When Sen. Scott asserts that The Daily Sentinel is 'fake news,' he intends to diminish The Sentinel as a purveyor of reliable information."

The publisher said it's one thing for an elected official to push back against a specific news story, but that it's another thing to criticize a publication for its general credibility, especially when the lawmaker's claim could be proven otherwise.

"His tweet is patently, provably false," Seaton argued. "Worse, he [Scott] made his false statement knowingly for the purpose of diminishing the only real asset this newspaper has: its credibility."

Seaton acknowledged that if the newspaper had knowingly impugned someone based on no evidence then it would be sued — and rightly so. Seaton said that same standard should apply even when the tables are turned.

"We are brokers in facts. Words have real meaning in this business. Sen. Scott has defamed this company and me as its leader," Seaton wrote.

Then, referencing President Donald Trump's tweet in which he vowed to fight a federal appellate court's decision to temporarily halt his controversial Middle East travel ban, Seaton warned Scott: "I’ll see you in court."

Scott responded Sunday to Seaton's threat, telling the publisher to "bring it on."

"If you lie it blows back. NO ONE ever attempted to contact me," Scott tweeted.

Colorado Republican caucus officials told KDVR-TV Tuesday that Scott wants to further discuss the controversy with Seaton publicly, but was told not to speak out because of the litigious nature of the matter.

Reached for comment Tuesday via email, Seaton told TheBlaze that he plans to file suit "after a short cooling off period."

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include Seaton's comment.

(H/T: LawNewz)

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