Media Matters sues Texas Attorney General over Elon Musk dispute

Media Matters for America sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in federal court late Monday, alleging that Paxton violated the First Amendment last month and chilled its work when he opened an investigation into the organization over its reporting into Elon Musk’s X app. 

Media Matters, a progressive watchdog group, said Paxton’s investigation was unlawful retaliation designed to punish it for stories it reported that alleged that major ad campaigns were running next to white nationalist content on X.

The stories contributed to trouble for Musk and X and seemingly helped inspire a massive wave of pullouts by advertisers from the social media platform, including Apple and Disney.

Paxton, a Republican, announced Nov. 20 that he was opening an investigation into Media Matters “for potential fraudulent activity” related to its investigation of X. Musk at the time applauded the probe, saying on X, “Fraud has both civil & criminal penalties.” 

Paxton’s announcement coincided with X’s suing Media Matters, claiming it unlawfully interfered with X’s relationships with advertisers. 

The lawsuit does not allege that Musk and Paxton are colluding, but it says Paxton was one of several “politicians and media figures” who “swiftly jumped to Musk’s cause” after Media Matters’ reporting.

Lawyers for Media Matters said in the lawsuit Monday that “the chill imposed by his retaliatory scheme injures Plaintiffs’ ability to investigate and publish news stories and further chills their ability to participate in a robust public discussion around political extremism on the X platform.”

The lawsuit asks a judge to block Paxton’s investigation permanently. It was filed in federal court in Maryland, where the Media Matters reporter who wrote the articles, Eric Hananoki, lives and works.  It alleges violations not only of the First Amendment but also of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process and the reporter “shield” laws in Maryland and Washington, D.C., which were designed to protect journalists from being compelled to disclose their sources in certain situations. 

Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. X also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit says Paxton’s office sent a letter to Media Matters on Nov. 21 demanding a “broad swath of documents” related to its reporting. The demand is intrusive, according to the lawsuit, which says many of Media Matters’ reporters and researchers “have pared back reporting and publishing, particularly on any topics that could be perceived as relating to the Paxton investigation.” 

“These reporters and researchers are also aware that Media Matters’s editorial team has been required to hold back stories about X and Musk due to these concerns,” the lawsuit says. 

The lawsuit also says Media Matters is outside Paxton’s jurisdiction. It is based in Washington, and it says it does not transact business in Texas, as defined by the state’s business code. 

“That Plaintiffs may be dragged to court in an unknown, unfamiliar, and untouched venue in Texas at the option of Attorney General Paxton further chills their speech,” the lawsuit says.