MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and the Daily Beast website have been threatened with a lawsuit unless both retract a claim about a competitor.
Maddow and the Beast, which both promoted the conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, claimed in recent reports that “Trump’s favorite channel”—referring to One America News Network (OAN)—has a “Kremlin-paid journalist” on its staff.
Kevin Poulsen of the Beast wrote an article on July 22 about Kristian Rouz, an employee at OAN, describing Rouz as a “Russian national on the payroll of the Kremlin’s official propaganda outlet, Sputnik.”
Poulsen claimed that Rouz’s on-air reports for the network have include fabricated stories and, at times, “Kremlin propaganda.”
Later that day, Maddow aired a segment citing the story and calling saying OAN “really, literally is Russian propaganda.”
Rouz said in a statement that he was not a staff employee of Sputnik, a news outlet owned by the Russian government, but that he writes on a freelance basis. “I was free to choose the topics and angles for my articles according to my own views,” he wrote, noting he was paid about $40 per article.
In letters sent to Maddow and the Beast, OAN said that Rouz “never had decision-making authority with respect to the content that is aired on OAN.”
“His job is to collect and analyze articles from other sources and write articles based on those sources. He is paid by OAN—not the Russian government—for the content he creates for OAN. Every article he writes goes through OAN’s editorial process,” according to the cease-and-desist letter to Maddow. “His outside work for other media outlets has no relation to—or bearing on—his work for OAN.”
The news network said that the statements made by Maddow and the Beast were “defamatory” and demanded they retract them.
“In your zeal, we think you singled out Mr. Rouz because of his nationality and sought to malign him because you thought he is from Russia; in fact he was born in the Ukraine. If you had taken a minute to check Mr. Rouz out, you would have found that contrary to your false and discriminatory accusation, he is a hard-working, honest journalist trying to earn a living and support himself. In that regard, I attach for your information a statement signed by Mr. Rouz and request that you check people out before you seek to destroy their livelihood,” OAN stated.
— Emerald Robinson ✝️ (@EmeraldRobinson) July 29, 2019
The letter to Maddow noted that Poulsen, the author of the Beast article, has been in legal trouble before. Poulsen, who doxxed a black Trump supporter earlier this year, was indicted on 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud, wiretapping, and money laundering in November 1989. Facing 37 years in jail, Poulsen went on the run and avoided capture for 17 months.
In addition to rigging a radio show Porsche giveaway, Poulsen allegedly wiretapped a Hollywood actress, tried to steal classified military orders, and hacked into an Army computer.
After he was later released following five years in prison, Poulsen was banned from the internet until 2004, he confirmed in an article.
Poulsen confirmed on June 1 that he was charged and went on the run.
“The falsehoods you disseminated are even more problematic considering that the Daily Beast article on which your episode was based was authored by Kevin Poulsen, also known as ‘Dark Dante’—the first computer hacker ever to be charged with espionage against the United States government,” OAN told Maddow in the letter.
“Of course, you made no mention of the shadowy source of the article in your statements; instead, you made it seem like the story written by Mr. Poulsen came from a credible news source.”
MSNBC, Maddow, the Beast’s parent company, and Poulsen have not commented on the cease-and-desist letters.