Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson had her lawyers send a letter to the New York Times demanding they correct the “false and defamatory” article titled “From Jerry Falwell Jr to Dr. Drew: 5 Coronavirus Doubters,” which painted Attkisson as one of those doubters.
Attkisson published the legal threat to her personal website, saying her attorney would “pursue legal redress” if changes were not made. Attkisson’s attorney, G. Taylor Wilson of Wade, Grunberg & Wilson, LLC, says in the letter that she had attempted to get the article corrected previously, but was provided a “cavalier response” from the Times.
“Through a combination of discrete statements of fact, the defamatory headline, and the juxtaposition of defamatory statements concerning a small group of individuals with whom you have lumped Ms. Attkisson, the article conveys the false and defamatory gist that my client, among other things, lied to her readers and listeners, reported as fact lies that endanger the lives of the public, and otherwise violated the litany of ethical standards by which responsible journalists conduct themselves,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson then outlines 10 examples from the Times article that were false and defamatory toward Attkisson:
The false and defamatory headline, “From Jerry Falwell Jr to Dr. Drew: 5 Coronavirus Doubters.”
“While public health experts warn people to take precautions, these popular media figures insist that the virus is overhyped.”
“Misinformation about the coronavirus continues to circulate across swaths of the American media – on popular podcasts, in blog podcasts, in blog posts, in online videos and on prime-time cable news shows – as recently as this week.”
“Some are conservatives who insist the virus is being hyped for political purposes.”
“Even as President Trump and the federal government’s top public health officials warn that the virus is not something to be taken lightly – and the authorities reported more coronavirus deaths in the United States on Wednesday – these commentators make misleading comments, cherry-pick facts and go so far as to claim that the virus could be a hoax or a North Korean Plot.”
“One of Mr. Hannity’s top sources [Ms. Attkisson] selectively picks facts.”
“In the past, she [Ms. Attkisson] has promoted the debunked theory that vaccines cause autism.”
“The facts she has chosen recently to highlight falsely leave the impression that the deaths are not all that significant in number and largely contained to one facility.”
“‘Look at those 30-some-odd deaths – most of them were from Washington State,’ Ms. Attkisson said last week on her podcast, adding that most of those were in an assisted-living facility. ‘The vast majority of those who passed away were from one cluster in the United States – almost none anywhere else.’”
“And yet visitors to Ms. Attkisson’s website this week might have come away confused about the severity of the virus, as there were several ads for high-grade protective masks.”
As Attkisson’s attorney noted, the Times did not always specifically state how the investigative reporter dismissed the coronavirus, instead lumping her in with four other individuals and claiming things like “these popular media figures insist that the virus is overhyped.” Wilson also took issue with the claims directly written about Attkisson.
“[I]t bears noting that the portion of the Article directly referencing Ms. Attkison is equally problematic and actionable. In it, the Times chose in its editorial discretion to affix defamatory labels to otherwise accurate and fair reporting conducted by Ms. Attkisson. For instance, the Times reiterated its “cherry-picking” accusation by asserting that my client highlighted selective facts that ‘falsely leave the impression that the deaths are not all that significant in number and largely contained to one facility,’” Wilson wrote. “It comes as no surpise that my client’s accurate and factual reporting in this regard mirrors the Times’ own reporting on the virus, including that at the time of publication the deaths in the United States numbered approximately 30 and that they were concentrated in Washington State, and a nursing home facility in particular.”
Wilson noted that the Times is using Attkisson’s past accurate statements to discredit her now that new information has come to light. Attkisson even noted that what she was reporting was current information that was subject to change and directed her listeners to go to cdc.gov for the most accurate and updated information.