Judge Recuses Himself From Elon Musk’s Lawsuit Against Media Matters

Judge Pittman, a Trump appointee, recused himself without explanation from Mr. Musk’s case against progressive advocacy group Media Matters.
Judge Recuses Himself From Elon Musk’s Lawsuit Against Media Matters
Elon Musk, chief executive officer of SpaceX and Tesla, gestures as he attends a conference at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, on June 16, 2023. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)
Gary Bai

A federal judge who oversaw billionaire Elon Musk’s lawsuit against a non-profit has recused himself from the case, court documents entered on Tuesday indicate.

Judge Mark Pittman of the U.S. District Court in Northern Texas on Tuesday recused himself from the civil lawsuit that Elon Musk, head of X (formerly Twitter), waged against nonprofit Media Matters for America, according to a new court filing (pdf) entered on Tuesday.

Court documents did not explain why Judge Pittman, a Trump appointee, recused himself, but federal guidelines state that a judge should “disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” or if “he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.”

It came as the latest development in what Mr. Musk calls a “thermonuclear” lawsuit against Media Matters, a self-described media watchdog organization, in which lawyers for X argue that the non-profit “knowingly and maliciously manufactured” images aimed to drive advertisers away from the platform. X filed the lawsuit filed on Nov. 20.
The court clerk has reassigned the case to Judge Reed O'Connor, a Bush appointee, court filings entered Tuesday show.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit (pdf) by X alleges that Media Matters published “intentionally deceptive” reports curated by manipulating X’s algorithms, intended to hurt X’s business interests.
It came after Media Matters published the article “As Musk Endorses Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory, X Has Been Placing Ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity Next to Pro-Nazi Content.” In that article, Media Matters reported that its researchers found advertisements of these companies alongside “posts that tout Hitler and his Nazi Party on X.”

In statements published last week, several global companies confirmed that they were pausing ads on X, including IBM, Comcast/NBCUniversal, Lions Gate Entertainment, Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Disney. Following its report, Media Matters published a list of companies joining the boycott.

According to X’s attorneys, however, the graphics were “remarkably rare combinations,” which the Media Matters author manufactured by creating an account that “only followed 30 accounts that either belonged to fringe figures or major national brands,” the lawsuit alleged (pdf).

“The end result was a feed precision-designed by Media Matters for a single purpose: to produce side-by-side ad/content placements that it could screenshot in an effort to alienate advertisers,” the lawyers argue.

An X executive previously told The Epoch Times that the platform isn’t “intentionally placing a brand actively next to this type of content, nor is a brand actively trying to support this type of content with an ad placement.”

Instead, the executive said that ads “follow the people on X.”

“In this case, the Media Matters researcher has its own user handle, and they are then actively looking for this content—that’s how user targeting works,” the executive said. “Groups like Media Matters aggressively search for posts on X and then go to the accounts, and if they see an ad, Media Matters researchers keep hitting refresh to capture as many brands as possible.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order Media Matters to “immediately delete, take down, or otherwise remove” the article and requests unspecified monetary damages.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit meant to bully X’s critics into silence,” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone said in a recent statement to media outlets on Mr. Musk’s lawsuit. “Media Matters stands behind its reporting and looks forward to winning in court.”

Separately, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote on Nov. 20 that his office is opening an investigation into Media Matters for “potential fraudulent activity.”

“We are examining the issue closely to ensure that the public has not been deceived by the schemes of radical left-wing organizations who would like nothing more than to limit freedom by reducing participation in the public square,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement on Twitter.
This comes after Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey wrote on Twitter on Nov. 19 that his legal team was “looking into” the matter.
Caden Pearson contributed to this report.