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US News & World Report fights subpoenas from San Francisco city attorney as part of First Amendment lawsuit

Autor: Joseph Wulfsohn

U.S. News & World Report is seeking to get subpoenas filed by the San Francisco city attorney tossed out of court as part of the news outlet’s First Amendment lawsuit against the official. 

A filing to the US District Court for the Northern District of California requests a preliminary injunction to block the subpoenas filed against U.S. News earlier this month by San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, who is listed as the defendant. 

“Plaintiff U.S. News & World Report, L.P. (‘U.S. News’) respectfully seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent Defendant David Chiu, the City Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco (the ‘City Attorney’) from using his governmental authority to perpetrate viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment,” the filing read Wednesday. 

It continued, “The City Attorney is investigating U.S. News because he disagrees with U.S. News’ journalistic work product and publicly available methodologies in arriving at its annual hospital rankings, which U.S. News has been publishing for more than 30 years. Prior to filing this action, U.S. News explained to the City Attorney the serious constitutional problems posed by his investigation and believed the matter was resolved when six months elapsed without it hearing anything further. Then, out of nowhere, and without even acknowledging the serious constitutional issues at stake, on January 9, 2024 the City Attorney served U.S. News with subpoenas for documents and interrogatories that go to the heart of U.S. News’ journalistic mission.” 

“Accordingly, U.S. News now asks this Court to vindicate the U.S. and California Constitutions by curbing the City Attorney’s intrusions upon a free press by issuing an order preliminarily enjoining the City Attorney from enforcing the subpoenas during the pendency of this litigation,” the filing added. 

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US News & Report Logo

U.S. News & World Report filed a First Amendment lawsuit against San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu. (Screenshot/U.S. News & Report)

A spokesperson for U.S. News told Fox News Digital, “The journalism that we undertake, including our rankings and the research we conduct, are entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment, which serves all news organizations. We stand behind our journalism as a valuable and reliable resource for individuals and families making critical decisions about their lives, and will not allow the important, unbiased work of our journalists – indeed, all journalists – to be censored by the government.”

“It’s ironic that U.S. News claims its speech has been chilled, when the purpose of the company’s lawsuit is to chill and impede a legitimate government investigation of potential unlawful business practices,” Chiu said in a statement. “Despite U.S. News’s stated commitment to transparency, the company has spent months evading legitimate questions about its undisclosed financial links to the hospitals it ranks. This lawsuit is yet another baseless attempt to avoid these questions and a waste of judicial resources. U.S. News is not above the law, and its bullying litigation tactics will not deter us from standing up for patients and consumers.”

U.S. News & World Report, known nationally for its rankings of various institutions, appeared to have irked Chiu, whose office sent the outlet a scathing letter to the outlet demanding transparency on how it ranks hospitals. U.S. News insists its methodology is publicly available. 

“USNWR holds itself out as an expert on ranking hospitals, but medical experts have recently raised concerns that USNWR’s rankings suffer from poor and opaque methodology, mislead those using the rankings, and create perverse incentives for hospitals nationwide,”  Chiu wrote in the letter back in June. “In addition, USNWR fails to disclose the fact that it receives payments from at least some of the ranked hospitals, which deprives the public of key information in considering the reliability of the rankings… As the City Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco, I have a duty to ensure San Franciscans and Californians have access to accurate information as they make critical healthcare decisions.” 

Chiu continued, “To that end, my Office asks for three things. First, we request evidence supporting USNWR’s assertions about the quality of its hospital rankings. Second, we seek specific information about the basis for the hospital rankings methodology and apparent deficiencies in the rankings. And third, we demand that USNWR take immediate steps to comply with Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) regulations requiring that it prominently disclose the hospitals from which it receives payments.”

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David Chiu at TechCrunch

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu issued subpoenas against U.S. News & Report seeking information on how it forms its hospitals rankings.  (Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

It wasn’t until earlier this month that Chiu filed two subpoenas against U.S. News. As reported by The Los Angeles Times, the subpoenas sought information on U.S. News’ “process for ranking hospitals” and “internal business records that might reveal more about U.S. News’ rankings process, and whether the financial relationships with hospitals are a factor.” 

The paper noted that U.S. News “makes money from the healthcare facilities, including through its sale of ‘badges’ that high-scoring institutions can and often do place on their websites and other branding materials.”

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San Francisco skyline

U.S. News & World Report filed its First Amendment lawsuit against Chiu at US District Court for the Northern District of California located in San Francisco.  (iStock)

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In turn, U.S. News filed a lawsuit against Chiu last week on First Amendment grounds. 

“Despite these bedrock protections, San Francisco’s City Attorney David Chiu (the “City Attorney”) is now investigating and issuing burdensome subpoenas to Plaintiff U.S. News & World Report, L.P. (“U.S. News”) because he disagrees with U.S. News’ viewpoint and methodology (which is publicly available) for arriving at U.S. News’ rankings,” the lawsuit read. “Specifically, the City Attorney disapproves of U.S. News’ rigorous and well-respected Best Hospital rankings. It is flatly unconstitutional for the City Attorney to harass U.S. News due to his differing views on these rankings; his mounting harassment must be put to a stop.”

Chiu was appointed San Francisco city attorney in 2021 and previously served as a Democratic member of the California State Assembly. 

Joseph A. Wulfsohn is a media reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to joseph.wulfsohn@fox.com and on Twitter: @JosephWulfsohn.

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