A news organization won a legal victory this week after a judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought against the publication and several of its employees by Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy.
In Monday’s 21-page decision, Boston federal Judge F. Dennis Saylor ruled that Portnoy failed to prove Insider had “malice” against him when it reported on his alleged sexual escapades, the New York Post reported.
In an expose starting in 2021, Insider alleged Portnoy engaged in “violent and humiliating” sexcapades with several unnamed young women, victims claimed.
But the judge concluded that Insider staff checked the women’s version of events with photos, texts, social media, videos, medical reports, police reports, an Uber receipt, and “statements from at least three friends who saw or spoke with the women soon after their interactions with [the] plaintiff.”
The “defendants’ independent verification of the women’s accounts thus further undercuts an inference of actual malice,” Saylor’s ruling said, Law & Crime, a legal publication, reported. A plaintiff typically needs to prove malice to win in such a court action.
Because Portnoy is a public figure it also becomes harder to prove defamation, and the related claim of invasion of privacy, in court.
“Every legal expert said it was an uphill battle.” Portnoy said in a recent Twitter post.
Portnoy also did not rule out the possibility of appealing Saylor’s ruling.
The articles were classified as “hit pieces,” and the Insider staff had “malicious intent” in the “smear campaign,” according to the lawsuit. The stories were also labeled as “clickbait journalism,” which the lawsuit explained as suggesting “actual criminal wrongdoing on Mr. Portnoy’s part without further explanation.”
Portnoy’s called the women’s claims “an outright fabrication.” Portnoy previously said sex was consensual.
The lawsuit stated that the defendants “improperly and knowingly relied upon biased sources who demanded anonymity, all while being in possession of documentary evidence that each source’s story was incredible and unreliable.”
Insider and its staff additionally had a “plan to sensationalize a story in order to drive reader traffic to an internet location where they could then be solicited to subscribe to [the] … tabloid-like Publication,” the suit adds.
Among the defendants named in the lawsuit were Insider Chief Executive Officer Henry Blodget, reporters Julia Black and Melkorka Licea, and editor Nicholas Carlson.
This is not what was said at all. The judge said the bar for a celebrity to sue a media outlet is very high. He said your negligence in reporting is actually protected. If he allowed this to go to discovery we all know it would have showed what a scumbag you are. https://t.co/d0x920oBAS pic.twitter.com/n1UbV5xzdv
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) November 8, 2022
Articles Linked to Penn Entertainment
Portnoy founded Barstool Sports in 2003. In 2020, Penn National Gaming, now known as Penn Entertainment, paid $163 million for a 36% stake in Barstool Sports. In August, Penn Entertainment acquired the sports website for $387 million.
The suit further claimed the articles were published on a date that coincided with Penn National Gaming’s quarterly earnings announcements.
But Saylor said the “fact that defendants published the articles behind a paywall, and that they sought to increase revenue by publishing the stories, does not give rise to an inference of actual malice.”
When reached for initial comment in response to the lawsuit, Insider spokesman Mario Ruiz earlier this year told Casino.org, “We stand behind our reporting and will defend the case vigorously.”
This week, Black, who was named in the lawsuit, in a tweet called the judge’s ruling “gratifying.”
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