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BuzzFeed Wins Legal Battle Against the ‘King’ of Fake News

BuzzFeed won a long-running legal battle on Wednesday against Michael Leidig, whom the news site had described in a 2015 story as the “King of Bullsh– News.”

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed Leidig’s $11 million libel suit, finding that he had failed to show that anything in the article was false.

The story chronicled how Leidig’s Central European News agency distributed dubious stories from abroad in numerous Western publications. The story alleged that CEN embellished stories with fabricated quotes, or concocted fake stories based on genuine news photos. Those stories appeared on sites including the Daily Mail, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and even BuzzFeed itself.

Leidig contended that his company did not fabricate stories, and filed suit in 2016. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero dismissed the suit, finding that Leidig had failed to produce any evidence that the article was false. Instead, Leidig issued blanket denials without substantiating any of its own articles, the judge found.

“In the face of repeated instances where BuzzFeed points to specific evidence supporting the truth of the Article, Plaintiffs’ sole rejoinder is that neither Leidig nor any CEN employee admitted to knowingly publishing ‘a fake news story’ or to ‘add[ing] phony quotations to a story,'” the judge wrote. “Apart from these statements, Plaintiffs provide no evidence that BuzzFeed’s eight statements about the CEN stories are false. As such, no jury could find BuzzFeed’s statements to be false.”

The BuzzFeed article noted several dubious stories that had been syndicated by CEN, including one about Chinese teenagers who took cabbages for walks to alleviate their loneliness. The story was based on an art show in which Chinese students took cabbages for walks, and embellished with quotes purportedly from a Chinese psychiatrist. BuzzFeed implied that the quotes were made up, which Leidig disputed.

However, in his deposition, Leidig was unable to vouch for the quotes, saying they came from an employee who had not started to work for CEN when the story was published. The CEN employee likewise could not substantiate the quotes, and in fact confirmed that BuzzFeed’s version of events was accurate.

“Other than Leidig’s self-serving and discredited testimony, which is plainly insufficient to support a motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs offer no evidence regarding the Cabbage Story’s veracity,” the judge wrote. “Even CEN’s employees could not trace or verify any relevant quotes or sources.”

The ruling made similar findings on seven other contested claims, including a story about a tapeworm and a pink kitten.

“From the outset of this baseless lawsuit, BuzzFeed has stood firmly behind the accuracy of its reporting and cooperated with the court at every step of the process,” said Buzzfeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal, in a statement. “Today Judge Marrero vindicated that reporting, finding no falsehoods in the article cited by the plaintiffs, whom he describes as ‘self-serving and discredited.’ The judge’s decision represents a hard-earned victory for thorough, truthful journalism.”

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