The conservative outlet One America News is suing Rachel Maddow and MSNBC for $10m after the nightly news host called it “paid Russian propaganda” because of one of its journalist's links to the Kremlin-owned news agency Sputnik News.
The lawsuit names Maddow, MSNBC, Comcast and NBCUniversal Media, and alleges the comments were made in retaliation after One America News President Charles Herring accused the cable television giant Comcast of censorship.
Maddow was discussing a report published in the Daily Beast on her 22 July show that said an employee for the conservative outlet also worked for Sputnik News.
"In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right-wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda," she said at the time. “Their on-air US politics reporter is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.”
One America News addressed the segment in its lawsuit, saying the employee in question, Kristian Rouz, was not a staff employee at Sputnik News but rather a freelance contributor. His work at the Russian-owned agency had nothing to do with his work for the conservative outlet, it said.
Mr Rouz acknowledged he had written nearly 1,300 articles for Sputnik over the past four and a half years, but in a statement filed with the lawsuit he said he had “never written propaganda, disinformation, or unverified information”.
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One America News described itself in a statement as “wholly owned”, saying it was “operated and financed by the Herring family in San Diego. They are as American as apple pie.”
“They are not paid by Russia and have nothing to do with the Russian government,” the statement continued.
An attorney for NBC Universal News Group criticised the lawsuit in a letter included in the court filings, saying the conservative outlet “publishes content collected or created by a journalist who is also paid by the Russian government for writing over a thousand articles”.
“Ms Maddow's recounting of this arrangement is substantially true and therefore not actionable,” the letter continued.
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One America News slammed MSNBC for declining to carry the channel, claiming that decision was made because the conservative outlet “counters the liberal politics of Comcast’s own news channel, MSNBC”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report