President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign filed a defamation lawsuit on April 13 against an NBC-affiliated television station for airing an ad falsely claiming the president called the COVID-19 outbreak a “hoax.”
The ad was cut by super PAC Priorities USA, which the complaint (pdf) filed by the Trump campaign identified as “far-left.”
“The advertisement, entitled ‘Exponential Threat,’ does not just contain false and defamatory statements about President Trump—it is far more insidious and, ultimately, far more dangerous,” the complaint stated.
Naming the defendant as Wisconsin-based WJFW-NBC, the complaint alleges: “The advertisement was produced through the use of digital technology by taking audio clips from Trump Campaign events and piecing those clips together to manufacture a blatantly false statement that was never said by President Trump: ‘The coronavirus, this is their new hoax.'”
The campaign said in the complaint that the “deceitful alteration of the audio” made it seem as though the word “this” referred to the virus, while it “instead refers directly to the Democrats’ politicization of the pandemic.”
The CCP virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, has spread aggressively across the United States, with a Johns Hopkins tally noting more than 558,000 infections across America as of April 13, while the number of recorded fatalities attributed to COVID-19 stands at more than 22,000.
The words “The coronavirus—this is their new hoax,” identified in the complaint, came from a Trump rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 28, according to multiple fact-checkers, including Snopes and PolitiFact, which provided the full context of the president’s remarks.
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that, right? Coronavirus, they’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They go, ‘Oh, not good, not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa. They can’t even count. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes,” Trump said at the rally.
“One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was not a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’ve been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning.’ Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax,” he said.
The audio referred to in the complaint appears to have spliced disparate parts of Trump’s remarks from that rally.
On Feb. 29, the day after the rally, Trump explained his remarks in a press conference.
“I’m not talking about what’s happening here; I’m talking what they’re doing,” he said, referring to Democrats. “That’s the hoax.”
The Trump campaign sent the Wisconsin station a cease and desist letter on March 25, the complaint stated, after which WJFW-NBC allegedly aired the ad 36 more times over 11 days.
“It is disappointing that WJFW-NBC would knowingly continue to broadcast this blatantly false ad and perpetrate falsehoods on the American people, even after the Trump campaign provided proof in good faith of the ad’s falsity,” Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement from the campaign.