Media Matters layoffs underscore need to crack down on SLAPPs

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A baseless lawsuit by Elon Musk's X and other frivolous legal actions that followed led to a round of recent layoffs at Media Matters. "Elon Musk" by dmoberhaus is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Media Matters for America announced yesterday that it’s laying off at least a dozen staffers. Its president blamed a “legal assault on multiple fronts,” including a lawsuit by Elon Musk’s X and the legal actions by Republican state attorneys general that followed.

“This is the latest example of billionaires and pandering politicians abusing the legal system to retaliate against their critics and harm the public’s right to know. The result is that the American public loses access to information in a critical election year,” said Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Director of Advocacy Seth Stern.

This isn’t a partisan issue. While this time it’s a right-leaning billionaire going after a left-leaning organization, the shoe could easily be on the other foot next time

“States that don’t have laws in place to combat strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, should pass them. Those that do should strengthen them. And Congress needs to pass a strong anti-SLAPP bill at the federal level right away,” Stern added. “This isn’t a partisan issue. While this time it’s a right-leaning billionaire going after a left-leaning organization, the shoe could easily be on the other foot next time.”

Anti-SLAPP laws — which allow for lawsuits that retaliate against speech to be disposed of in their early stages and for defendants to recover attorney’s fees — have been useful in defending against other frivolous lawsuits driven by Musk. But filing the Media Matters lawsuit in a federal court in Texas allowed Musk to avoid an anti-SLAPP motion.

X’s lawsuit alleges Media Matters disparaged it by reporting that it placed advertisements next to antisemitic and white nationalist content. The social media platform claims that Media Matters manipulated its algorithm — for example, by following accounts likely to generate problematic ad placements. But there’s no dispute that X did display the ads as reported, leading commentators to call the lawsuit “gloriously stupid.”

The same goes for the probes and lawsuits by the attorneys general, which hinge on convoluted theories that Media Matters violated consumer protection laws. One of them — brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — has been preliminarily enjoined from proceeding due to its chilling effect on Media Matters’ constitutionally protected activities.

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