Protected Speech

Fox News Asks Judge to Dismiss Misinformation Suit

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On May 21st, a lawyer for Fox News asked a Seattle judge to throw out a lawsuit accusing the cable network of spreading false information about COVID-19.

This post has been updated. 

The suit, filed in the Superior Court in Washington County of King on April 2nd by the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE), accuses the cable news network of violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act.  According to the complaint, Fox “willfully and maliciously engaged in a campaign of deception and omission regarding the danger of the international proliferation of the novel Coronavirus.”

The complaint singles out Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Trish Regan, who had repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 in February and March broadcasts.

 During the May 21st hearing in front of King County Superior Court Judge Brian McDonald, Fox’s lawyer, Michael Carvin, said that the lawsuit is barred by the First Amendment. Carvin argued that the statements made by Hannity and Regan were “opinions,” and as such, are protected by the First Amendment. 

“I don’t think it’s rhetorical hyperbole to say that an objective assessment of this case demonstrates that this suit cannot proceed in an American court,” Carvin said during the hearing.

Media advocacy organizations, including the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (RCFP), have weighed in on the suit, contending that WASHLITE is misstating the law in a way that would impair speech and press protections for everyone. 

In an analysis piece posted on the RCFP website, Technology and Press Freedom Project Director Gabe Rottman wrote that WASHLITE’s argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, “would strip First Amendment protections from content distributed over the public internet, including this blog post.”

Judge McDonald is expected to issue a written decision by May 29.

MediaPost   RCFP  Complaint