Judge Halts Texas AG’s Probe Into Media Matters

A judge on Friday moved to halt an investigation by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) into the liberal watchdog journalism organization Media Matters, issuing a preliminary injunction in the case.

Calling Media Matters a “radical left-wing” and “anti-free speech organization,” Paxton claimed to be investigating “potential fraudulent activity” by the group under Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act, in response to its reporting about X — the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Media Matters President and CEO Angelo Carusone said in a statement on Friday evening that X owner Elon Musk had “encouraged Republican state attorneys general to use their power to harass their critics and stifle reporting about X,” adding: “Ken Paxton was one of those AGs that took up the call and he was defeated. Today’s decision is a victory for free speech.”

Paxton launched an investigation into after Media Matters in November, after its senior reporter Eric Hananoki reported that X had been “placing ads for major brands like Apple, Bravo (NBCUniversal), IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity (Comcast) next to content that touts Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party.”

X filed a lawsuit against Media Matters in Texas calling the report “intentionally deceptive,” and Paxton made a sweeping demand for documents from Media Matters that same day. (Media Matters called the X lawsuit “meritless.”)

Paxton’s office demanded the organization’s internal and external communications about Musk, X CEO Linda Yaccarino, and Musk’s purchase of X. The attorney general also requested extensive details on its financials, demanding the group detail any revenue it receives from sources in Texas, as well as “all direct and indirect sources of funding for all Media Matters for America operations involving X research or publications.”

Media Matters filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to block those investigative demands, arguing the Paxton was violating its First Amendment rights and attempting to chill its “newsgathering, research, and reporting activities on X or Musk.”

The organization noted it has “no relevant connection to Texas,” explaining that it “does not transact any business in Texas and thus has never registered in the state” and similarly has “not registered as a charity organization in Texas.”

By filing the lawsuit, Media Matters effectively blocked Paxton from suing to try to enforce his office’s investigative demands. Last month, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) jumped in and sued the organization in a Missouri state court, demanding similar documents, despite the fact that Media Matters is not registered as a business or charity in that state, either.

D.C. District Court Judge Amit Mehta granted Media Matters’ request for a preliminary injunction in its case against Texas on Friday. “Plaintiffs’ reporting on matters of public concern are core First Amendment activities,” the judge wrote, asserting that Paxton was pursuing Media Matters with “retaliatory intent” over acts “with no apparent connection to Texas.”

Mehta issued an order blocking Paxton from enforcing his office’s original investigative demands and from issuing any additional demands relating to the investigation he announced in November.

“We are pleased that the court stepped in today to protect Media Matters for America from a clear attack on the organization’s core First Amendment activities,” Elias Law Group partner Aria Branch, who represented Media Matters in the case, said in a statement. “Today’s ruling is a win for free speech, and it sends a strong message to conservative Attorneys General around the country that meritless, retaliatory efforts to investigate progressive organizations for their protected speech will not succeed.”

Media Matters filed the lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. to try to head off similar investigative demands from attorneys general in other red states where the organization does not operate.

“This is their new tool to go after anybody they want,” Ezra Reese, the Political Law chair at Elias Law Group, tells Rolling Stone. “And figuring out how to stop it is really important, not just for Media Matters, but for all the other groups they’re going after.”

Paxton, for instance, has sought to use the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act as grounds to demand that Seattle Children’s Hospital provide records of any gender affirming care it has provided to children from Texas. The hospital sued Paxton in a Texas court, arguing he has no jurisdiction to make such demands. Washington state also has a “shield law” designed to protect health care providers from such requests.

Reese says Media Matters’ approach can “carve a path for everybody else these Republican AGs are targeting to defend themselves.”

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