Choose orders New York Occasions to return Mission Veritas inner memos By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The New York Times building can be seen in Manhattan, New York, United States on Aug 3, 2020. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton / File Photo

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By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A New York State judge ordered the New York Times on Friday to return internal documents to the conservative activist group Project Veritas.

In an unusual written judgment https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/fbem/DocumentDisplayServlet?documentId=SgQ8IEENXxhU2D4NlHEZHw==&system=prod, Judge Charles Wood of the Westchester County Supreme Court ordered the New York Times to return to Project Veritas destroy all physical copies of legal notices made by any of the group’s lawyers and electronic versions.

Wood last month issued an injunction against the New York Times, which drew criticism from advocates of the freedom of the press.

Project Veritas, led by James O’Keefe, has used what critics consider misleading tactics like secret audio recordings to expose what it calls liberal media bias. The group is the subject of an investigation by the Department of Justice into its possible role in the theft of a diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley, the pages of which were posted on a right-wing website.

Project Veritas challenged a November 11 Times article that drew on the legal memos and allegedly revealed how the group worked with their attorneys to “assess how far their fraudulent reporting practices can go before breaking federal law “.

Wood said in Friday’s decision that Project Veritas’ legal memos were not a public concern and that the group had a right to keep them private that outweighs concerns about press freedom.

“Unwavering loyalty and vigilance in protecting the freedoms of the First Amendment must not override the fundamental protection of legal professional privilege or the fundamental right to privacy,” wrote Wood.

AG Sulzberger, editor of the New York Times, said the newspaper would appeal the ruling.

Sulzberger said the decision prevented the Times from posting newsworthy information that was legally obtained through normal reporting.

“In addition to this unconstitutional prior reluctance, the judge has gone further (and) ordered the return of this material, a judgment with no apparent precedent and one that could pose obvious risks to source disclosure if it persists,” Sulzberger said.

Project Veritas attorney Libby Locke said in a statement that the New York Times’ behavior was “erratic” and the verdict confirmed that view.

“The New York Times has long since forgotten the importance of the journalism it claims to represent and has instead become a vehicle for pursuing a partisan agenda,” Locke said.

Project Veritas has been involved in a defamation lawsuit against the New York Times since last year when the newspaper published an article calling the group’s work “deceitful”.

The Times has had no restraint since 1971, when the Nixon administration tried unsuccessfully to prevent the publication of the Pentagon papers on US military engagement in Vietnam.

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