“If I have any free time after winning my elections then you’re getting sued,” Masters wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Gawker found out the hard way and you will too.” He attached a letter from his attorneys that promised a defamation lawsuit was on its way.
Masters is vying for the Republican nomination in a competitive race for U.S. Senate, in the hopes of ousting incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly. The field of candidates includes several other prominent Republicans, such as current Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and businessman Jim Lamon.
Over the weekend, Masters found himself in a media firestorm, partly due to a short article by the Mirror on Masters’ views on contraception. The piece, published on May 6, was entitled: “GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters wants to allow states to ban contraception use.”
The Mirror’s reporting was based largely on a statement on Masters’ own website. In a section detailing his position on abortion, Masters announced that he promised to only support federal judges “who understand that Roe and Griswold and Casey were wrongly decided, and that there is no constitutional right to abortion.”
Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are two cases that deal only with abortion rights. But Griswold v. Connecticut, as the Mirror noted, protected the right to purchase and use contraceptives without government intervention. Like Roe, the case was based on a “right to privacy,” a concept that is not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution, but which judges inferred from due process rights.
Masters did not expand on his views on contraception on the website, aside from the sentence claiming the case was wrongly decided. Since the Mirror wrote its article, the section appears to have been revised to remove Griswold from the list, leaving only Roe and Casey.
Attorneys for Masters wrote in their letter to the Mirror that the idea that he supported a contraception ban was “absolutely false.” They also asserted that while “Blake believes Griswold v. Connecticut was wrongly decided,” it did not mean he advocated banning contraception as a policy.
The Mirror‘s piece, though, did not outright say that Masters was advocating a total ban — just that he “thinks judges should also take aim at the right to buy and use contraception,” based on his public position on Griswold.
The Mirror‘s reporting came at a pivotal moment for abortion and contraception rights in the country. The leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion, which showed that the high court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade in its deliberations on a Mississippi case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has sparked protests nationwide.
And many have speculated that if Roe is overturned, legal rights to contraception and same-sex marriage could soon be challenged as well, given that they rely on the same idea of privacy rights.
The article on Masters’ views on contraception quickly went viral. It also sparked some sensationalized reports, such as one article taking some liberties with the Mirror‘s reporting. Its headline read: “Arizona GOP Senate Candidate Wants to Ban Condoms In All States.”
On Twitter, that article and others racked up tens of thousands of shares and likes. Masters’ campaign was forced to do damage control.
Monday afternoon, Masters posted the letter warning that a defamation suit was coming. The Mirror, which has broken important stories about extremism in the Arizona Republican Party, had a “history of defaming conservatives,” attorneys claimed.
It’s noteworthy that Masters invoked the lawsuit against Gawker, a tabloid-style news website that was forced to shut down for years after losing a lawsuit over its publication of Hulk Hogan’s sex tape. That lawsuit was financed by Peter Thiel, a billionaire and tech tycoon, who spent millions on litigation against Gawker over the years.
Now, Thiel is pouring some of his millions into Masters’ campaign in Arizona.
In the letter, Masters claimed his views on contraception had been misrepresented, and that the reporter had not given the campaign a chance to reply.
Masters also took issue with a line in the Mirror‘s report that discussed Masters’ “past praise for the Unabomber and Hermann Goering,” citing other media reports. Attorneys for Masters argued that Masters had never praised Goering, just quoted him in an old essay. (They did not contest that Masters has said that “everybody should read” the Unabomber’s manifesto.)
Dan Barr, an attorney specializing in media law, told Phoenix New Times that he was doubtful any eventual lawsuit would have much merit, and would be quickly dismissed by a judge. More likely, he said, the letter was just a “public relations stunt.”
“It’s a very difficult standard to make,” Barr said of winning a defamation lawsuit against the press for an article like the Mirror‘s. “I doubt he could make it.”
Masters is represented, according to the letter, by Kory Langhofer with the Phoenix-based Statecraft law firm. Langhofer has made a name for himself as counsel for Republican Party big shots. He worked as counsel for former president Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as former U.S. Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Some Masters critics also noted the irony that the candidate, whose website touts that he is a proponent of free speech, was now threatening a legal crackdown on the press.
In an email to New Times, campaign spokesperson Amalia Halikias provided a short statement from Masters, which said that “libel isn’t free speech” and “if I were a journalist, I would just say the truth, instead of going around maliciously defaming people.”
The Arizona Mirror has not issued any corrections to the story. David Bodney, a lawyer for the publication, wrote in a statement that “we have reached out to Mr. Masters’ lawyer to address his concerns amicably, but have not yet received a response.”