Judge dismisses defamation suit from ex-Sputnik journalist

Cassandra Fairbanks, white power gesture, Emma Roller, fusion, defamation, lawsuit

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday dismissed a defamation lawsuit against a former Fusion reporter. 

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said that the plaintiff, Cassandra Fairbanks, failed to prove that reporter Emma Roller intentionally defamed her when she suggested in a tweet that Fairbanks had made a “white power hand gesture” in a photo taken at the White House. 

“This ‘fundamental principle of our constitutional system’ obligates Ms. Fairbanks, as a public figure, to support her defamation claim by alleging facts that support a finding of actual malice on the part of Ms. Roller,” McFadden wrote.


“Because Ms. Fairbanks has failed to allege such facts, Ms. Roller’s Motion to Dismiss under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure will be granted.”

Fairbanks worked for the Russian state-run news site Sputnik when Roller posted the photo, in which Fairbanks and another individual are flashing the “OK” hand sign in the White House briefing room. The gesture is also associated with the so-called alt-right.

Fairbanks’s lawsuit argued that Roller acted with “actual malice” when she posted the tweet, making use of a legal standard that must be met in libel cases involving public figures.

The lawsuit also offered sharp criticism of the media, saying that Roller and other mainstream journalists viewed themselves as the gatekeepers of the news. 

Roller, who now works for the news website Splinter, tweeted in response to the news that the case had been dismissed. 

A spokesman for Gizmodo, which owns Splinter, hailed the decision.

“We believe this suit was a clear attempt to intimidate reporters who scrutinize the activities of those on the fringe and we’re pleased that the Court applied the strong First Amendment protection for public debate and dismissed this case,” said David Ford, a spokesperson for Gizmodo Media Group.

— Updated on June 7 at 9:04 a.m.


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