Two-time Congressional candidate and Electronic Frontier Foundation civil rights lawyer Shahid Buttar filed a defamation lawsuit against the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday over an article that had falsely accused Buttar of sexual harassment.
Buttar has been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s largest rival in the 12th Congressional district for the last several years. In 2020, Buttar, a fellow Democrat, managed to garner 22% of the total vote in the race, the largest percentage against Pelosi since her first House election in 1987, and the first time that another candidate broke the 20% of the vote mark against her since 1990.
However, during the 2020 election, with Pelosi’s popularity starting to dip and a wave of support for more progressive Democrats led by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the presidential election influencing many voters in the Bay Area, Buttar began to have larger percentages in polls over Pelosi.
“After the 2020 primary, Buttar emerged as Pelosi’s first real threat to her seat ever,” noted Greg Firenze, a San Jose-based pollster who helped conduct polls on Bay area House races last year, to the Globe on Wednesday. “He was still probably not going to win, but it was looking like he could get 30%, even 35% of the vote. Remember, Sanders won the California Democratic Primary. More left-leaning candidates were beginning to win on the local level, especially around here. He was rising.
“Then two things happened. Pelosi began getting a bit more clout for continuing to go after President Trump after the first impeachment. And then the San Francisco Chronicle articles hit and really hurt him.”
In July 2020, Buttar suddenly faced sexual harassment accusations from two San Francisco Chronicle articles. Both articles cited essays by Washington-based filmmaker Elizabeth Croydon alleging that Buttar had sexually harassed her. The July 22nd article outright stated that in the headline, saying “Shahid Buttar, Nancy Pelosi’s Election Opponent, Accused of Sex Harassment.”
However, Croydon was immediately under suspicion. She was well-known for lying or fabricating stories against people in the past, according to the Independent Political Report. Many people who knew her even gathered together to write a letter against going after innocent people.
“The accuser is well known in the D.C. social-justice community,” said the multiple people in the latter. “Unfortunately, this troubled individual has a long history of fabricating attacks against innocent people.”
Buttar sues the SF Chronicle for defamation, violating California law
Buttar himself acknowledged this, calling the allegations against him, especially since they likely cost him many votes, malice.
“Even though the Chronicle is bigger and better resourced, it couldn’t be bothered to perform the most basic due diligence,” said Buttar on Tuesday in a statement. “That recklessness is bad enough with a garden-variety, dog-bites-man story. When it throws a grenade like fabricated sexual harassment claims into the middle of a once-in-a-generation federal election, that recklessness crosses into malice.
“It’s important to recognize the role of racism and white supremacy in this defamation. First, the lies about me match well-worn patterns from the Jim Crow South. Second, I’m a brown Muslim immigrant who was challenging the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and racism isn’t just about race; it’s also about power. In this context, for the newspaper of record to amplify false accusation, and then fail to correct its record — that’s as insidious a reflection of white supremacy as burning a cross outside City Hall.”
Those stories in the Chronicle, as well as negative after effects of the case, led Buttar to sue the Chronicle on Tuesday. In Shahid Butter for Congress Committee V. Hearst Communications, which was filed in United States District Court Northern District of California, Buttar is suing the Chronicle’s parent company for defamation and for violating the California Unfair Competition Law. He also directly attributed the false stories to not only ‘grievously harming’ Buttar and his campaigns reputation, but for costing them a significant number of votes in the 2020 12th District Congressional election.
“The Constitution permits the press wide latitude to cover public figures,” added Buttar. “But it doesn’t allow the press to weaponize known fabrications. To print uncorroborated information — and then to refuse to run corrections even when confronted with conflicting evidence — is both reckless and malicious.”
While the Chronicle has yet to reply to Buttar’s lawsuit as of Wednesday, others who previously cited Croydon’s accusations have said that they were, at the time convincing.
“To a lot of us, they looked on the level,” said an anonymous journalist to the Globe on Wednesday. “But a lot of us published first without waiting to see who else came forward. Turns out it was no one, and people were hurt in the process, including political campaigns. I can’t say if this case has any merit, but I will say that many journalists were caught up in the [#metoo] movement at the time and believed accusers because so many had gone on for so long without ever being believed. But, as we’ve seen, it really goes both ways.”
“Monsters like Harvey Weinstein and others were swept up in this, but so were innocent people. And suits like this show just how believable a lot of these accusations were to us. Still are in some cases.”
Buttar’s lawsuit is expected to be brought to court sometime later this year.