CNN’s failed First Amendment analysis: “It’s different for the media.”

On Sunday October 16, WikiLeaks released its 9th batch of emails relating to the Clinton campaign as purportedly stolen from John Podesta’s emails.[1]  In shades of nonsense more fitting for Will Ferrell’s character Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, Chris Cuomo from CNN (also purportedly an anchorman) stated that “it’s illegal [for you] to possess these stolen documents” because as Cuomo believes “it’s different for the media (emphasis mine).”[2] For those given to the belief that the main stream media is pulling for Clinton, this certainly appears to be a confirmed case of the media actively protecting a presidential candidate from potentially damaging information in the leaked emails. In Cuomo’s own words “…everything you learn about this, you’re learning from us.”[3] Is CNN’s legal analysis on point?  Some law scholars believe not.

According to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh “[i]t is illegal for the media or anyone else to possess actually stolen tangible property (e.g., stolen paper letters, stolen paper files, etc.). But possessing illegally made copies (again, when you weren’t involved in the illegal copying) isn’t illegal, and likely can’t be made illegal consistently with the First Amendment.”[4] Further, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley believes “[t]he weight of the existing case law militates heavily against the legal threat described on CNN.”[5]

Arguments of media bias aside, If CNN’s legal analysis fails as spectacularly as it appears, should anyone rely on their substantive analysis of the content of the emails?


—  Derek A. Jordan, Esq., Barnes Law


Derek A. Jordan is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law and land surveying in Tennessee.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] See: USA Today

[2] See: WikiLeaks Twitter

[3] Id.

[4] See: The Wall Street Journal

[5] See: Jonathan Turley "Res Ipsa Loquitur"