Buffalo Bulletin, a newspaper located in Wyoming, has been hit with a $36 million libel suit by the Patriot Conservatives, a political PAC.
The Bulletin, which provides news in a weekly print edition and online, denies charges that it published “false defamatory articles and ads.”
The suit on file concerns an article, titled, “If they lie about the little things…”
According to an account published Wednesday by The Bulletin, the article in question described a farmers market event sponsored by the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.
Political activities were forbidden at the market, but members of the group set up a booth, and when confronted, obtained some apples “to pretend to sell,” the article alleged.
The suit contends this article was an attempt to sway and "influence the vote” of an upcoming election in August. The Bulletin claims it had not mentioned the election in its article.
According to the Bulletin, the lawsuit also alleges the “actions were in blatant violation of journalistic standards requiring reporters to reach out to obvious sources for corroboration refutation.”
The paper notes that journalists “are not required by law to contact any source for corroboration or refutation.”
The suit on file with the Fourth Judicial Court also alleges the Bulletin published a political ad without disclosing who paid for it, in violation of state law.
The paper counters that this is required under Wyoming law only when the ad is for a candidate, political action committee or organization. News reports are protected by the First Amendment.
The Bulletin points out purported inconsistencies in the lawsuit — for example, lack of clarity about whether the offending copy is in an article or ad, and an error concerning the date of publication.
But such inaccuracies can be corrected along the way. Lawsuits of this type can hurt a small publication, given the legal costs associated — even if it wins.
The lawsuit claims “defamation against the PAC for the slanderous, malicious and malcontent words printed in the Buffalo Bulletin.”
Robb Hicks, the Bulletin publisher, says: “I am very confident in our case and will vigorously defend the Buffalo Bulletin and our good name. In Wyoming, truth is an absolute defense against libel and defamation claims. We feel strongly that we have truth on our side and look forward to a court confirming this.”