Fact Check

Did a Judge Rule That CNN Is 'Fake News'?

The seemingly damning claim was based on a misstatement of a court ruling in a defamation suit.

Published Feb 17, 2017

 (Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock, Inc.)
Image Via Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock, Inc.
A federal judge ruling in a defamation suit declared that CNN was "fake news."
What's True

A federal court judge in Georgia denied CNN's motion to dismiss a defamation suit brought against the network by a former hospital executive.

What's False

The ruling denying CNN's motion to dismiss did not state (or even insinuate) that CNN is "fake news," nor did it force a "shocking punishment" on the news network.

In February 2017, the web site Freedom Daily published a blog post that reported a federal judge had ruled the CNN cable news station was officially "fake news":

BREAKING: Federal Judge Just Officially Ruled CNN Is FAKE NEWS And Forces SHOCKING Punishment On Them!

During his first press conference after winning the presidency, Donald Trump got in a notable spat with CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He refused to take a question from him, then pointed at him and told him “you are fake news,” shutting him down before The Donald took somebody else’s question.

“Mr. President that’s not appropriate” Acosta could be heard complaining — but according to a Federal judge, it’s quite the appropriate assessment. In fact, it’ll even hold up in a court of law!

For some background, Davide Carbone, who was the former CEO of St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach filed a defamation lawsuit against CNN after they aired a “series of false and defamatory news reports” about his hospital. Among the claims were that the infant mortality rate at the hospital was twice the national average, clearly implying some wrongdoing. Even more shocking, CNN’s report said the overall mortality rate was three times the national average ... According to Mr. Carbone, that CNN “intentionally manipulated statistics to bolster their report.” He also claims that CNN had plenty of positive information about the hospital available they could’ve included in their report that they didn’t address so that they could sensationalize.

CNN is more than just fake news. They’re biased, sensationalist propaganda — AND fake. And a federal judge just confirmed it.

However, a LawNewz article on the lawsuit presented a more straighforward report on the substance and issues of the case:

Davide Carbone, former CEO of St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, filed a defamation lawsuit against CNN after they aired what he claims were a “series of false and defamatory news reports” regarding the infant mortality rate at the hospital. CNN’s report said the mortality rate was three times the national average. However, Mr. Carbone contends that CNN “intentionally” manipulated statistics to bolster their report. He also claims that CNN purposely ignored information that would look favorable to the hospital in order to sensationalize the story.

[Carbone’s attorney L. Lin] Wood ... says that as a result of CNN’s story Carbone lost his job and it became extremely difficult for him to find new employment in the field of hospital administration.

Federal District Judge Orinda Evans ruled that the case could move forward, even ruling that she found that CNN may have acted with “actual malice” with the report — a standard necessary to prove a defamation claim.

“The Court finds these allegations sufficient to establish that CNN was acting recklessly with regard to the accuracy of its report, i.e., with ‘actual malice,” the order reads. CNN had tried to get the case dismissed.

copy of Judge Evans' 15 February 2017 decision showed that CNN's motion to dismiss Carbone's suit was denied. The 18-page document reviewed the facts of the case as argued by both sides before concluding that Carbone had grounds sufficient to proceed with a defamation claim in the state of Georgia.

The decision focused in particular on Carbone's claim that statistics cited in a CNN report potentially misled viewers. The court deemed that CNN's motion to dismiss did not satisfactorily address Carbone's dispute of the way the network had presented their statistics.

According to the ruling, Georgia law requires a private figure to prove only that CNN acted with "ordinary negligence" in his complaint (in contrast to a public figure who would need to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that CNN acted with "actual malice") and that Carbone met the minimum standard for a defamation claim. Accordingly, CNN's motion to dismiss the complaint was denied.

Freedom Daily's headline reported a "shocking punishment" forced on CNN as a result of the ruling, but that claim was never addressed in the body of their article, nor was it supported by the text of the ruling (unless one considers having to contest a lawsuit to be a "shocking punishment").

The court did not declare CNN's reporting to have been erroneous, examine the overall practices of CNN outside of Carbone's complaint, nor say (or even hint) that the station deals in "fake news." The ruling did not even constitute a final judgement in favor of the plaintiff, as it simply established that Carbone had sufficiently proved grounds to proceed with his lawsuit against CNN.

As of December 2018, CNN had been unsuccessful in seeking to have the defamation case against them dismissed via an anti-SLAPP motion:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has rejected an appeal by CNN to dismiss a libel case over the cable network’s 2015 investigation of infant deaths at a Florida hospital.

The opinion, penned by Judge William Pryor, rejected CNN’s contention that a pending federal defamation case against the network should be thrown out under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP law. The unanimous opinion also dismissed CNN’s petition to overturn U.S. District Senior Judge Orinda Evans’s 2017 decision not to dismiss the case.


Stockman, Rachel.     "Hospital CEO Wins Major Court Victory After Accusing CNN of False Reporting."     LawNewz.     15 February 2017.

United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.    "Carbone v. Cable News Network, Inc., Order"     15 February 2017.

ALM Media.   "11th Circuit Rejects CNN Effort to Dismiss $30M Libel Claim."     Yahoo! Finance.   13 December 2018.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.