A judge in New York state on Friday sided with Project Veritas in continuing a ban on the New York Times from publishing certain documents pertaining to the organization.
The ruling by Judge Charles Wood of State Supreme Court in Westchester County amounts to a prior restraint on the Times, an uncommon restriction on any publication. It also requires the Times to return or destroy the disputed material in its possession. An earlier appeal by the New York Times in the case was unsuccessful.
Project Veritas, a conservative organization that seeks to uncover wrongdoing by mainstream media and liberal groups, is suing the Times for libel in connection with its reporting about the group’s founder, James O’Keefe. At issue in this instance are documents obtained by the Times that were prepared by attorney Benjamin Barr for Project Veritas in connection with the case. Wood ordered the NYT to turn over any physical documents it possesses in the case and to delete any electronic copies “and to remove such documents from the internet and any web sites or servers over which they have control.”
The Times responded with a statement by publisher A.G. Sulzberger: “In defiance of law settled in the Pentagon Papers case, this judge has barred The Times from publishing information about a prominent and influential organization that was obtained legally in the ordinary course of reporting.”
His statement referenced a landmark 1971 case, in which the Nixon administration sought to prevent the publication of reporting based on a mammoth classified report on the nation’s involvement in the Vietnam War dating back decades. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Times and the Washington Post in that situation.
Sulzberger added: “We are appealing immediately.”
Project Veritas has been under investigation for the possibility that was involved in the theft of a diary from Ashley Biden, daughter of President Joe Biden. Despite that, Wood argued in his ruling that the material in question did not have news value: “A client seeking advice from its counsel simply cannot be a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.“
Wood’s ruling instructed the Times “not to use the legal memoranda provided by Project Veritas’ counsel, Benjamin Barr, or information obtained from those documents in this action for any purposes whatsoever.”
Project Veritas contended the documents were improperly obtained and that doing so was a violation of attorney-client privilege. “Project Veritas claims that the Times’ intrusion upon its protected attorney-client relationship is an affront to the sanctity of the attorney-client privilege and the integrity of the judicial process that demands the court’s intervention," Wood said.
The idea of a publication being blocked from publishing material is referred to as prior restraint, and courts have been largely sympathetic over the years to the press on the issue, basing it on the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Times has been supported in the Veritas litigation by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“This ruling should raise alarms not just for advocates of press freedoms but for anyone concerned about the dangers of government overreach into what the public can and cannot know,” Sulzberger said in his statement.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple tweeted: “Today's ruling in the Project Veritas v. NYT case is a monster lump of First Amendment coal.“