First Twitter, now The Fresno Bee: Devin Nunes files lawsuit against McClatchy

In his latest legal onslaught against perceived critics of his policies, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, filed a $150 million defamation suit Monday in a Virginia circuit court against the McClatchy Co. and a Virginia communications consultant described as a “digital terrorist for hire.”

The lawsuit filed in Albemarle County was obtained by The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday, and Nunes confirmed the lawsuit in a Monday night appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.

Nunes declared that McClatchy reporters need “to come clean with the American people” and retract their “fake news” reports. He said he wants such stories – including one published last year concerning his investment in the Alpha Omega Winery – scrubbed from the internet, and he promised more legal challenges.

“If you’re out there and you lied and you defamed, we are going to come after you,” he told Hannity.

The lawsuit, which follows a previous $250 million lawsuit he filed against Twitter and a parody account known as Devin Nunes’ Cow, targets McClatchy for reporting by The Fresno Bee in a “scheme to defame Plaintiff and destroy his reputation.”

McClatchy issued a statement Tuesday rejecting claims Nunes made “based on a story published by his hometown news source, The Fresno Bee.”

“The lawsuit represents a baseless attack on local journalism and a free press,” the statement read. “At a time when local journalism is facing more pressing and urgent challenges, the lawsuit is an unproductive distraction and a misuse of the judicial system.

“Representative Nunes declined the opportunity to talk to reporters from The Fresno Bee last year about his investment in the Alpha Omega Winery, the subject of his claim. Hopefully, he will provide such answers during the litigation.

“Moreover, while he filed his lawsuit in the state of Virginia, California law applies to this case and it outlines steps to demand corrections for the benefit of any individual who feels he or she has been libeled. In the over 10 months since the winery article appeared, Mr. Nunes has not once availed himself of the statute by writing to the Fresno Bee to demand that it publish a correction to any statement made about him.

“He did however find the time to produce a video and a 40-page mailer distributed to constituents attacking The Fresno Bee and its coverage of the Alpha Omega winery case. Logically, California is a more appropriate location to try this case since Mr. Nunes represents a constituency in California, McClatchy is based in California – for 162 years – and The Fresno Bee is the Representative’s hometown newsroom.

“We find it ironic that, rather than sue in his home district, he chose Charlottesville as the location for his suit, a town associated with Thomas Jefferson, a founding father who was a strong advocate of the First Amendment.”

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Nunes, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, has denounced The Fresno Bee as a “left-wing rag” and a “joke,” and has largely refused to provide access to its reporters.

But the lawsuit targets one particular story in The Fresno Bee that ran during his re-election effort last year and reported on a 2016 lawsuit against a winery whose investors include Nunes.

Devin Nunes' lawsuit against McClatchy

The story by reporter Mackenzie Mays detailed claims in the lawsuit about an event that took place aboard a yacht where winery employee Alene Anase alleged she saw guests on the charity cruise using what appeared to be cocaine “and ‘drawing straws’ for which sex worker to hire.”

That suit was later settled for an undisclosed amount, but Nunes contends the headlines about the suit and its dissemination via Twitter and the internet “was part of a scheme to defame Nunes.”

Nunes never requested a correction to the story. Much of Nunes’ 43-page lawsuit focuses on Twitter, the number of Twitter followers The Bee and Mays have and the fact that the “Yacht/Cocaine/Prostitutes article was republished online and retweeted and posted on the Internet hundreds of thousands of times.”

“It traveled through social media like wildfire,” Nunes’ suit alleges, adding that “McClatchy’s words obviously had their desired effect – they linked Nunes to ‘underage prostitutes’ and ‘cocaine.’ ”

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The congressman’s earlier suit against Twitter and the operators of the Devin Nunes’ cow and Devin Nunes’ mom Twitter accounts had a similar impact online, drawing many new followers — the cow account quickly attracted more followers than Nunes’ own account and made him a target of late night comedians.

The suit against McClatchy, which accuses the Fresno Bee of “stealth edits” of the original story, also names Virginia political communications strategist Elizabeth A. “Liz” Mair, accusing her of attacking and smearing Nunes.

Mair, the latest suit notes, was sued earlier by Nunes and responded by changing her Twitter username to “BeingSuedByDevinNunes.”

Nunes claims in the suit that the attacks on him were made, in part, to “interfere with and divert Nunes’ attention from his investigation of corruption and alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election.”

Nunes, who sent out a 40-page magazine style mailer in the waning days of the campaign that attacked The Fresno Bee, has vowed to launch more legal efforts against critics, and his complaints have drawn national attention to The Fresno Bee’s aggressive coverage of him.

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.