The Patriot Conservatives of Johnson County are suing the Buffalo Bulletin for $36 million for alleged libel, defamation and slander they say was contained in an “article” that was published two weeks ago.
The conservative political PAC, which is represented by attorney Nick Beduhn, filed the suit in the Fourth Judicial District Court on Aug. 16. The suit contends that the defendants, Weiser Signal American, Inc., the Buffalo Bulletin, Inc., Pronghorn Publishing, Inc., Eclipse Media, Inc., Frontier Newspapers, Inc., and John Does 1-10, published “false defamatory articles and ads.” The plaintiffs seek $36 million as damages — “the full tax dollar amount,” had a 1% special use tax ballot measure before voters on Aug. 17 passed.
“I am very confident in our case and will vigorously defend the Buffalo Bulletin and our good name,” Robb Hicks, Bulletin publisher, said. “In Wyoming, truth is an absolute defense against libel and defamation claims. We feel strongly that we have truth on our side and look forward to a court confirming this.”
The suit alleges that the libelous statements were published in the Aug. 11, 2021, edition of the Buffalo Bulletin, however, the Bulletin did not publish an edition on Aug. 11, 2021. The suit variously describes the statements as appearing in an advertisement, a story and an article.
“The Plaintiffs assert that the Buffalo Bulletin committed libel in their newspaper on August 11, 2021, regarding the Plaintiffs’ truth,” the filing states.
Plaintiffs allege “defamation against the PAC for the slanderous, malicious and malcontent words printed in the Buffalo Bulletin.”
Defamation is a civil claim that encompasses false statements of fact that harm another’s reputation. There are two basic categories of defamation: libel and slander. Libel generally refers to written defamation, while slander refers to oral defamation.
To successfully sue for defamation in Wyoming, a plaintiff must prove that the statement was published or broadcast and heard by more than one person; that the statement was not factual; and that the statement caused harm.
The suit stems from an “article” that was published in the Bulletin titled “If they lie about the little things…” which detailed two incidents involving the group. The article is submitted in the filing as Exhibit A.
The text in Exhibit A said in one instance, the group was told that political activities were not permitted during farmers market events sponsored by the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce. The ad said that despite this, members of the group set up a booth, and when asked to stop, members of the group allegedly argued with the market organizer and obtained some apples to “pretend to sell.”
The suit alleges that the “actions were in blatant violation of journalistic standards requiring reporters to reach out to obvious sources for corroboration or refutation.” Journalists are not required by law to contact any sources for corroboration or refutation. Plaintiffs argue that, “Put simply, it was an attempt to sway and influence the vote on August 17, 2021.” However, the text included in Exhibit A makes no mention of the special use tax or the upcoming election.
The suit also alleges that the Bulletin violated state election law by publishing an advertisement for “a political or organization (sic) without disclosing who approved and paid for it.” However, according to Wyoming Statute 22-25-110, the requirement to identify who paid for an advertisement applies only to a “candidate, political action committee (or) organization.” Further, Wyoming law explicitly excludes “a communication consisting of a news report, commentary or editorial or a similar communication, protected by the first amendment to the United States constitution and article 1, section 20 of the Wyoming constitution,” distributed by a newspaper.
In May, Fourth Judicial District Court Judge William Edelman dismissed a lawsuit against Johnson County’s public health officer and Gov. Mark Gordon on a variety of procedural issues. Edelman ruled that petitioners, represented by Beduhn, lacked standing in the case because there was no direct connection between the health orders and any alleged injuries plaintiffs may have suffered, among other reasons.