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Judge Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Filed Over ProPublica Article

A New York trial court has thrown out a libel lawsuit against freelance journalist William D. Cohan that was brought by the subject of an article published by ProPublica. The plaintiff, Jide Zeitlin, sued Cohan in July 2021, claiming that he was defamed by the article, “The Bizarre Fall of the CEO of Coach and Kate Spade’s Parent Company,” which chronicled Zeitlin’s career as a prominent businessman and how allegations of an extramarital affair with a woman he photographed impacted that career.

The lawsuit was dismissed under New York’s anti-SLAPP law, which broadly protects defendants who are sued for free speech activities in connection with an issue of public interest by giving them a way to quickly dismiss meritless suits brought against them. The judge dismissed all of the claims against Cohan, and the court agreed that the anti-SLAPP law applied to this case, given Cohan’s reporting on a matter of public interest. Significantly, the judge held that Zeitlin had failed to show or demonstrate evidence that Cohan had acted with “actual malice,” which means the defendant must have known his statements were false or acted with reckless disregard for whether they were false or not.

“We are delighted that the court upheld responsible journalism and dismissed this baseless suit,” ProPublica General Counsel Jeremy Kutner said. “This story involved a prominent leader of a major company and generated impact before it was even published. This case shows the deep importance of strong protections like New York’s expanded anti-SLAPP law for thoughtful and thorough reporting on matters of public concern.”

ProPublica was represented by Jay Ward Brown and Emmy Parsons of Ballard Spahr LLP.

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