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Trump-appointed judge recuses self from Elon Musk’s lawsuit against Media Matters

The new federal judge appointed to oversee the case has long found favor with conservative organizations.

The new federal judge appointed to oversee the case has long found favor with conservative organizations.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman (center inset) recused himself from a controversial lawsuit filed by Elon Musk and social platform X against watchdog Media Matters for America. (Graphic by The Desk)
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman (center inset) recused himself from a controversial lawsuit filed by Elon Musk and social platform X against watchdog Media Matters for America. (Graphic by The Desk)

A federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump has recused himself from a controversial lawsuit filed by social media company X and its founder Elon Musk against watchdog organization Media Matters for America.

In a memo sent to the clerk of the U.S. District Court in Fort Worth on Tuesday, District Judge Mark Pittman offered no reason for his withdrawal, but he urged the clerk to “please see that [the case] is assigned to another judge, per the usual procedure.”

The case was promptly reassigned to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who was appointed by former President George Bush in 2007. Like Pittman, O’Connor has issued somewhat-controversial rulings in the past, determining the outcome of a number of high-profile cases in which he typically sided with conservative organizations challenging progressive causes.

The reassignment was likely procedural, and the case may ultimately not be heard in the federal Northern District of Texas. X, formerly known as Twitter, is based in San Francisco, while Media Matters has its corporate address listed in New York City. Musk, who acquired Twitter in a $44 billion deal last year, is a resident of Boca Chica, a small community in south Texas that falls outside the jurisdiction of the federal Northern District.

The case against Media Matters centers around an article published by the organization that claimed X had shown advertisements from major companies like Apple, Oracle and IBM alongside offensive and abusive content posted by white supremacists and other unsavory users.

Musk challenged the report, saying in a legal complaint that Media Matters “knowingly and maliciously” misrepresented what actually happened on the platform and claiming that the mix of ads and abusive content was not the typical experience of X’s social media users.

To that end, Musk and X claim Media Matters used the platform in a way that manipulated the website’s algorithms to display advertising alongside hateful content. In the legal complaint, Musk and X assert the experience portrayed by Media Matters was “inorganic and extremely rare.”

Media Matters founder Angelo Carusone said the website stood by its report and called the lawsuit “frivolous.” In a post on X, he wrote that the organization “look[s] forward to winning in court.”

The report in question was published around the same time Musk appeared to endorse an anti-Semitic post written by another X user, one that triggered an advertiser backlash and convinced several legacy media brands to suspend their activity on the platform.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).