Devin Nunes, the congressman from California and a generally wretched human, is suing someone else for defamation. Last month, Nunes sued a pair of Twitter users who are pretending to be his mother and his cow, respectively (probably worth noting: the accounts are obvious parody as opposed to deceitful impersonation). Now, he’s suing publisher McClatchy, the owner of the Fresno Bee, a newspaper that covers Nunes’s district. Both this lawsuit and the prior name Liz Mair, a Republican strategist, as a defendant.
Nunes’s new defamation suit concerns an article published last May in the Bee by Mackenzie Mays about a lawsuit against Alpha Omega Winery, in which Nunes is an investor. The article, conveying details of that lawsuit, described a fundraiser aboard a yacht that included drugs and prostitution. As the article noted at the time, Nunes did not respond to requests for comment, and “It’s unclear how much of Alpha Omega Nunes owns, if he was aware of the lawsuit or was affiliated with the fundraiser.”
The Bee stated yesterday that “Nunes never requested a correction to the story” and drew attention to how much of the lawsuit harps on the effect of social media. The suit states 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.”
Still, there are hints that Nunes might be in a little over his head. For instance, one part of the suit references a tweet Mays published about the 2018 article to her 5,000 or so followers. By and large, having 5,000 followers on Twitter does not mean 5,000 people saw a tweet — it’s often a much smaller fraction.
The same section also claims that Mays bolded the words “woman,” “Devin,” and “cocaine” in her tweet, presumably as some sort of grade-school coded message? Mays definitely did not do this, because Twitter does not supported formatted text like bolding or italicizing. The bolded words in the screenshot included in the lawsuit are there because Twitter’s search function bolds the search terms when displaying results. (An example: If I search for “donald trump traitor” on Twitter, the site might show me a tweet that looks like “Donald Trump is not a traitor.”)
Nunes, a baby boy zapped into premature adulthood by a magic Zoltar machine, has frequently decried the Fresno Bee as “fake news” and sent out a 40-page mailer last year in an attempt to argue that the paper is not credible. One might be inclined to believe that Nunes doesn’t fullly comprehend how Twitter works — he is suing an account pretending to be his cow, after all — but this most recent suit feels like a page out of the Peter Thiel/Gawker playbook: a suit intended not to be won, but to tie up a critical media outlet in red tape.