The New York Times office is seen on September 28, 2020. A New York court recently ordered the Times to refrain from publishing information related to Project Veritas. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

CPJ extremely concerned by court order restricting New York Times coverage

Washington, D.C., November 19, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed grave concern over a New York Supreme Court order restricting the New York Times’ coverage of Project Veritas.

Yesterday, Judge Charles Wood issued an order blocking the newspaper from publishing materials concerning Project Veritas, a conservative nonprofit that targets groups it perceives as left-leaning, according to news reports and a copy of that court order.

The ruling orders the Times to remove alleged privileged attorney-client information concerning Project Veritas from the Times’ website and to refrain from any “further efforts” to acquire such information.

“The New York Supreme Court’s order to prevent the New York Times from publishing certain materials is deeply concerning. Courts are supposed to protect the fourth estate, not stop media organizations from doing their jobs and reporting on matters of public interest,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen. “This prior restraint order not only stymies the free flow of information but is a direct affront to legal precedent and the First Amendment.”

The next hearing in the case, where the Times can contest the ruling, is scheduled for November 23, according to the court order.

Project Veritas has accused the Times of “improperly” trying to acquire privileged attorney-client communications and then publishing the materials to embarrass the activist group, according to those news reports.

The order is part of a defamation suit Project Veritas filed against the Times in 2020 over its coverage of the group, according to a report by the newspaper.

In a letter to Judge Wood, lawyers representing the Times said that Project Veritas did not have evidence that the newspaper improperly obtained the documents in question, and referred to the court decision as “draconian and disfavored.”

In a statement cited in the newspaper’s report, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said that the decision was “unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent.”

“The Supreme Court made that clear in the Pentagon Papers case, a landmark ruling against prior restraint blocking the publication of newsworthy journalism. That principle clearly applies here. We are seeking an immediate review of this decision,” Baquet said.

Libby Locke, a lawyer representing Project Veritas in its defamation suit against the Times, told CPJ via email that the court’s decision was “not an improper prior restraint,” rather a “routine order” to compel the New York Times to adhere to discovery rules in the defamation case.

Separately, on November 15, FBI agents raided Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe’s home in Mamaroneck, New York, as part of an investigation into the theft of a diary belonging to U.S. President Joe Biden’s daughter, as CPJ documented at the time.