WARSAW, Poland (AP) — An American conservative activist and Steve Bannon protege lost a defamation case Friday against a Polish journalist who described him as “Trump's man” and part of a global war against democracy by the political right.
Matthew Tyrmand, a 38-year-old American with Polish roots, has written for Breitbart and is a board member of the organization Project Veritas, which carries out undercover stings against liberal and mainstream media.
He sued journalist Tomasz Piątek and Agora, publisher of the liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, over a 2016 article that described Tyrmand as "part of the global war by the right wing against democracy."
Tyrmand objected to several points in the article, including the description of him as “Trump's man" and of Trump as being sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also objected to Piątek writing that Project Veritas wages “informational warfare."
In testimony last year, Tyrmand argued that the article connected him “in this tenuous guilt-by-association to Vladimir Putin.” He called it the “biggest slander and slur” possible in a part of Europe that had “achieved independence from the Soviet tyranny.”
Tyrmand, in a written message from Chicago, said that he was “livid and rather disgusted, but not entirely surprised by the ruling” and that he plans to appeal.
Judge Jacek Tyszka rejected Tyrmand's argument that he had been defamed and ordered Tyrmand to pay 4,000 zlotys ($1,050) to the reporter and the same amount to Agora. Tyszka argued that it was not defamatory to describe Tyrmand as part of Trump's circle when he has written for Breitbart and been associated with other pro-Trump players.
Tyrmand had demanded an apology and 50,000 Polish zlotys ($13,200) for charity.
The judge also said the description of Project Veritas was acceptable given that the group is partisan and limits its sting operations to exposing wrongdoing by liberals to help conservatives. Tyrmand insisted after the ruling that this was not true.
He accused the Polish judicial system of double standards, noting that just this week a Constitutional Tribunal judge was handed a guilty verdict and fine for calling other judges “ordinary thieves.”
“I certainly see this glaring double standard myself and as such I will be appealing this incorrect and seemingly politically motivated verdict post haste,” Tyrmand said, adding that Polish judges “evidently carry water for one political side but the long arc of life does ultimately bend toward justice.”
Tyrmand is the son of the late Leopold Tyrmand, a prominent Polish-Jewish communist-era dissident and writer who survived the Holocaust and emigrated to the United States in the 1960s. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign Matthew Tyrmand distributed the film “Clinton Cash” — which portrayed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as captive to wealthy foreign interests — in Poland.
Piątek and the newspaper welcomed Friday's ruling.
“It's a victory for freedom of speech,” Piątek's lawyer, Piotr Rogowski, told The Associated Press after the decision was read in Warsaw's district court. “Tyrmand presents himself as a supporter of freedom in the United States and he comes here and acts like a censor.”
Gazeta Wyborcza is also being sued in 50 other cases by Poland's ruling populist party and its allies over articles that are critical and have exposed high-level corruption.
“They want to waste our time and have a chilling effect on our reporting,” the newspaper's deputy editor, Bartosz Wieliński, told the AP.