Former President Trump sues Pulitzer board alleging defamation when prizes to New York Times and Washington Post are not revoked as per his request

Former President Donald Trump is suing the Pultizer Prize board for awarding the New York Times' and Washington Post's coverage of the Russia collusion scandal. (Reuters) Photo Source: Former President Donald Trump is suing the Pultizer Prize board for awarding the New York Times' and Washington Post's coverage of the Russia collusion scandal. (Reuters)

Last week, former President Donald Trump sued the Pulitzer Prize board, claiming they’d defamed him. The lawsuit was not a shock to the Pulitzer board, because Trump had said he’d file a lawsuit after the board wrote and published a specific statement that he found defamatory.

The lawsuit was filed in an Okeechobee County, Florida, court and claims the Pulitzer Board acted with “actual malice” in its public statement with the intent to damage Trump’s reputation.

In October 2022 the former president spoke at a rally in Robstown, Texas, and vowed to sue the Pulitzer board due to Pulitzer prizes given to journalists who wrote about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Speaking to the crowd of supporters in October, while stumping for fellow Republicans in the lone star state, Trump said, “Within the next two weeks, we’re suing the Pulitzer organization to have those prizes taken back. By allowing these people that got Russia, Russia, Russia wrong, they’re actually libeling me because they’re saying they got it right.”

In July 2019, the Pulitzer board rejected the former president’s request to take back the prestigious journalism awards given to The New York Times and The Washington Post, whose subjects were Russian interference in the American election in 2016.

In total, about twenty articles were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for stories about numerous attempts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The stories also included content about the US federal investigation into “alleged collusion” between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post is targeted in the 30-page lawsuit.

The Pulitzer Board said it saw no reason to revoke the awards. In a public statement, the Pulitzer Board said that after two reviews conducted by Trump and other supporters into the matter, it found “no passages or headlines, contentions or assertions in any of the winning submissions were discredited by facts that emerged subsequent to the conferral of the prizes.”

Court documents show Trump disagrees with the Pulitzer Board.

“On the facts known to Defendants at the time these reviews were allegedly conducted, it would have been impossible that a single objective, thorough and independent review would have reached such a conclusion, much less two,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants knew this and published the Pulitzer Statement anyway.”

The suit names both the Pulitzer Board as a whole and all individual board members as defendants.

However, though the lawsuit does discuss every one of the articles published in The New York Times and The Washington Post, the defendants are not the parties who published what the suit calls articles that promoted a “disgustingly fake narrative that Trump was a Russian asset.”

Instead, the suit was filed against the Pulitzer Board, an organization that did not publish any of the articles attacked in these court documents. The Pulitzer Board awarded prizes and did not in any way create and publish the content that Trump labels as “false.”

Trump’s reasoning in the suit is murky at best, since he is asking the Florida court to punish the organization that rewarded the reporting with Pulitzer Prizes, but not the newspapers themselves.

Trump’s suit also claims the Pulitzer Board did not follow its typical protocols and rushed through the approval of the articles written and published by The New York Times and The Washington Post about the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The suit claims this fast-tracking of the Pulitzer Prizes “signaled… it was acknowledging the Russia Collusion Hoax as the biggest story of 2017.”

Despite numerous Federal investigations linking Russia to interference in the 2016 presidential election, the lawsuit claims “there was no connection between the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team, or the Trump administration, with any Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.” (emphasis is from Trump’s suit).

Trump asks for over $30,000 in damages, alleging it is for compensation for the Pulitzer Board’s giving awards in 2018 to The Washington Post and New York. Times about the former president’s 2016 campaign, the Mueller investigation into Russian interference, and the Steele Dossier, with regards to any collusion with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The 2017 full statement of the Pulitzer Board, which is the basis for Trump’s lawsuit, is included here.

The Pulitzer Prize Board has an established, formal process by which complaints against winning entries are carefully reviewed. In the last three years, the Pulitzer Board has received inquiries, including from former President Donald Trump, about submissions from The New York Times and The Washington Post on Russian interference in the U.S. election and its connections to the Trump campaign–submissions that jointly won the 2018 National Reporting prize.

These inquiries prompted the Pulitzer Board to commission two independent reviews of the work submitted by those organizations to our National Reporting competition. Both reviews were conducted by individuals with no connection to the institutions whose work was under examination, nor any connection to each other. The separate reviews converged in their conclusions: that no passages or headlines, contentions or assertions in any of the winning submissions were discredited by facts that emerged subsequent to the conferral of the prizes.

Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli is an award winning Journalist, Editor and Author for over 18 years for New Jersey news outlets (print and online) including launching the first daily digital newspaper in 2005, Jersey Tomato Press. She has been published in numerous newspapers; journals; magazines and literary publications nationally and is the winner of the Shirley Chisholm Journalism Award.
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