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Buzzfeed Hauled Into Court Over Slam Piece

(CN) - BuzzFeed faces an $11 million federal complaint over an April 2015 hit piece that viral-news purveyor Central European News says tarnished its reputation.

Central European News and its owner Michael Leidig filed the lawsuit Monday, accusing the popular website of libeling it with an article titled "The King of Bullsh*t News."

The article compiled multiple investigative debunkings of stories sold by Central European News into a defamatory slam piece, according to the complaint.

It reported that Leidig had been "suffering from financial difficulties" when he "decided to go into the business of fabricating and selling fake news stories."

Leidig contests this, however, as well as many other claims from the BuzzFeed story.

"The words ... were published with reckless disregard for whether they were true or false, and in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties," according to the complaint.

Leidig says he received an email from BuzzFeed reporter Alan White that suggested the piece would be balanced.

"I understand that you are producing this viral content for sale in order to fund your laudable investigative journalism, such as your report into the issue of child trafficking in Europe, and I am keen to reflect this fact in the article," White's email said, as quoted in the complaint.

Leidig, a citizen of the United Kingdom living in Vienna, says White actually "had no intention of discussing any of plaintiffs' laudable work, but only wished to smear and defame plaintiffs as journalistic frauds."

Indeed BuzzFeed had an ulterior motive since injuring CEN's reputation could give it "a greater share of the market for viral news in Great Britain and elsewhere around the world," according to the complaint.

The lawsuit defines viral news as "stories that, because they are quirky or funny or otherwise unusual, are likely to be spread around the internet as readers decide to share them with others on social media."

Among the many CEN stories that the BuzzFeed article debunked were two castration stories, a sunbathing woman causing car accidents, and Chinese youths walking cabbages like pets.

CEN and Leidig each seek $5 million for damage to their respective reputations. The lawsuit mentions that the BuzzFeed story "dominated discussion" at his 50th birthday. Shortly after the story's publication, Leidig's father allegedly suffered a massive stroke. The lawsuit declares "the last memories Mr. Leidig's father had of him were of disgrace and possible ruin as 'The King of Bullshit News.'"

The lawsuit cites $1.04 million in damages incurred from BuzzFeed's publication, including "a substantial reduction in its monthly sales of stories, the loss of long-time clients and partners, including All Over Press, and 20 mins, and the reduction in usage by partners such as the Daily Mirror; the loss of a high-six-figure investment that had been under discussion for many months, increased expenses occasioned by clients requesting more verification, the shutdown of CEN's investigations unit, and the shutdown of CEN's online publishing product."

Before publishing its "King of Bullshit News" article, BuzzFeed had been "publicly criticized for publishing stories without verifying whether they were true or false."

When reached for comment, representatives from BuzzFeed said they were "aware that the suit was filed, but we don't comment on potential litigation."

CEN and Leidig are represented by Harry H. Wise III.

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