Devin Nunes Sues Newspaper Company, Alleging ‘Character Assassination’

Less than a month after suing Twitter for allowing its users to insult him, Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, said he was suing the McClatchy Company, a newspaper chain, over what he called “character assassination.”

The defamation lawsuit seeks $150 million and the deletion of an article in The Fresno Bee, a McClatchy newspaper, about Alpha Omega Winery, a company that Mr. Nunes partially owns. The article, published last May, described a lawsuit by a server who was aboard a San Francisco Bay cruise in 2015 attended by some of the winery’s top investors, which she said included drugs and prostitution.

The article said it was “unclear” whether Mr. Nunes “was aware of the lawsuit or was affiliated with the fund-raiser” at which the cruise was auctioned.

The lawsuit filed by Mr. Nunes, a loyal ally of President Trump and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says he was not involved in the incident on the yacht and that he considers the article part of a politically motivated scheme to “destroy his reputation” and derail the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Nunes has long sought to discredit The Bee, which covers his congressional district. His campaign against the paper has included television ads and a 40-page mailer sent to voters last year.

“This is a case about character assassination and a public company that weaponized its powerful pen and used it as a terrible sword,” his lawsuit says.

Mr. Nunes did not respond to The Bee’s questions during the reporting of its article, and the newspaper wrote on Monday that he had never asked for a correction.

“With the limited opportunity we have had to review this claim, it is wholly without merit and we stand behind the strong reporting of The Fresno Bee,” said Jeanne Segal, a McClatchy spokeswoman.

McClatchy is one of the nation’s largest newspaper chains, owning dozens of publications including The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Charlotte Observer.

The lawsuit also names as a defendant Liz Mair, a Republican strategist who was also named in the Twitter lawsuit. Mr. Nunes accuses Ms. Mair of offering “egregious sound bites to McClatchy,” referring to critical comments she made in a separate article. She tweeted a link to the Fresno Bee article about the cruise, suggesting that she was working in a “conspiracy” with McClatchy, the lawsuit claims.

On Twitter, Ms. Mair responded by asking supporters to donate to her legal defense fund.

The lawsuit did not appear in online court records in Virginia as of early Tuesday, but Mr. Nunes said in a Fox News appearance on Monday that he had filed it. A copy of the lawsuit was posted by Fox News.

“If you’re out there and you lied and you defamed, we’re going to come after you,” Mr. Nunes said to Sean Hannity, a Fox News host.

Lots of politicians seethe about the news media, but not many channel their frustrations through lawsuits. That is partly because the standard for a public figure to prove defamation against a news outlet is high: It is not enough to simply show that an error was made. Public figures must show that the publication operated with a “reckless disregard” for the truth and with “actual malice,” and there are few examples of politicians successfully suing.

Press advocates consider those high standards essential to the ability to report on public figures without facing constant lawsuits, which can be costly for cash-strapped media companies to defend themselves against.

This is the second defamation lawsuit in a month for Mr. Nunes, whose $250 million lawsuit against Twitter, Ms. Mair and two anonymous accounts portrayed critical tweets directed at him as evidence of an effort by the tech giant to silence conservative voices. Twitter has repeatedly denied having any political bias or agenda.

The suit against Twitter included a long list of insults lobbed by a parody account, @DevinCow, whose visibility skyrocketed after news coverage of the lawsuit. The account now has more than 600,000 followers, up from about 1,200.

Mackenzie Mays, the author of the Bee article, who is now a reporter at Politico, said little in response to the suit on Twitter, but she reposted an image in support of journalists that has circulated since last year.