Alleged fake news site denied quick win in suit against BuzzFeed

A federal judge has turned down an international news purveyor’s bid for a quick legal victory in a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed over a story claiming that the England-based firm was selling fake news stories.

Central European News and its owner, Michael Leidig, sued BuzzFeed for $5 million last year alleging that they were smeared by an investigative report BuzzFeed posted in 2015 headlined: “The King of Bullsh*t News.”

Lawyers for the internationally focused news service contend that BuzzFeed was wrong when it claimed that the service circulated debunked or fabricated stories, often relating to sex or bizarre medical conditions. Those stories frequently appeared first in non-English news sources and later in English-language tabloids after being translated by CEN.

Leidig and CEN asked Manhattan-based U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero to rule that the BuzzFeed article was libelous on its face and that neither Leidig nor the news service are public figures.

Marrero declined on both counts, saying the issues required additional fact-finding.

“There is little to no relevant evidence upon which Plaintiffs have relied in support of their Motion,” the judge wrote, before invoking Shakespeare. “With respect to falsity, the Motion and supporting papers consist mainly of Plaintiffs insisting upon a tautology that, to paraphrase Lucetta, conveys no other than Plaintiffs’ reason: The Article is false because it is false.”

In his ruling, Marrero also said the issue of whether the plaintiffs are public or private figures is “far from settled,” noting that Leidig recently wrote a book, “Buzz Bottom Feeders: An Insider Look at How BuzzFeed Tried to Destroy a Rival Business.”

A lawyer for Leidig and CEN did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

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