- FOX NEWS Chairman Rupert Murdoch is named defendant in landmark legal action
- HIS CABLE network is accused of ‘maliciously’ branding Covid-19 a ‘hoax’
- IT ALLEGEDLY contributed to a “public health crisis and preventable mass death”
- FOX Business Network’s Trish Regan left the company after claiming coronavirus was ‘scam’ to ‘impeach Trump’
- MURDOCH to fight suit, attacked by Fox lawyer as ‘frivolous’
RUPERT Murdoch has been named personally as defendant in a fake news lawsuit claiming Fox News “maliciously” risked public health by dismissing Covid-19 as a politically-motivated hoax, Court filings reveal.
The 89-year-old Chairman of Fox Corporation is cited along with three of his companies and cable partners AT&T TV and Comcast in the landmark action being brought at King County Superior Court, Seattle, WA.
It follows broadcasts on March 9 by Sean Hannity and Trish Regan in which they said the danger posed by the novel Coronavirus strain was being overstated by critics of the Trump administration’s handling of the developing pandemic.
Instead of focusing on the threat to public health, the presenters decried warnings of Covid-19’s impending impact as a “hoax” and “scam” and a political narrative intended, somehow, to “impeach” the President.
The network took the step of suspending Ms Regan’s show before parting ways with her two weeks later, as conservative commentator Mr Hannity continues to face heavy criticism of his coverage of the crisis, with Washington State’s Covid-19 death toll standing at 394 against a national total of 12,988 as this story was published.
A 10-page legal filing – which Fox Corp is denying and has said it will defend – said the Defendants “acted in bad faith to wilfully and maliciously disseminate false information denying and minimizing the danger posed by the spread of the novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19.”
The suit, brought by non-profit activist group the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE), says Mr Murdoch and his co-defendants violated Washington State’s Consumer Protection Act.
Allegedly, a “campaign of deception led viewers to take unnecessary risks and ignore the dangers of the virus, especially dangers posed to the elderly, immunocompromised, and those with underlying medical conditions.”
The suit alleges the motivation was financial, according to a deposition from the plaintiff’s Counsel Elizabeth Hallock, which reads: “This misinformation was disseminated to further [the] Defendants’ business plan and to sell advertising by creating controversy.”
Their broadcasts went out to around 87million US households – circa 90% of cable television subscribers – where an average 2.5m viewers are tuning in to Fox News, alongside populations in some 86 international territories.
It had, the suit claims, the effect of: “Creating a false belief in a statistically significant percent of the population that the coronavirus is a “Hoax,” going on to say: “the Defendants have created an epidemiological hazard.”
The deposition by WASHLITE’S Ms Hallock, adds: “These representations were deceptive because they caused consumers to fail to take appropriate action to protect themselves from the virus, mitigate its spread, and contributed to a public health crisis and preventable mass death.”
Last week, it was announced that Fox Business Network said it officially “parted ways” with former anchor Ms Regan after what some called a rant against the “coronavirus impeachment scam”.
Reacting in a statement, Lily Fu Claffee, general counsel for FOX News Media, told Times of San Diego (LINK): “Wrong on the facts, frivolous on the law. We will defend vigorously and seek sanctions as appropriate.”
Arthur West, leader of the three-year-old WASHLITE, the plaintiff, reportedly said in a phone interview that its members have run into people who still believe earlier Fox News reports that the pandemic was a hoax.
The suit, brought on behalf of an unspecified number of WASHLITE members seeking an injunction on Fox repeating such “hoax” allegations, acknowledgement of wrongfulness of the hoax claim, and admission to the tort of Outrage by falsely and deceptively disseminating fake “News”.
The case, reportedly filed at 12:13 p.m. Thursday, has been assigned to Judge Ken Schubert – with no hearing date set. West said the defendants haven’t yet been formally served notice of the case.
As to claims that the lawsuit was trying to stifle First Amendment rights to Free Speech and Press under the American Constitution, a spokesman for the plaintiffs reportedly said: “It’s like the theater thing … Up to the point where you get up in the theater and yell ‘Fire!’ you can say whatever you want. But when you get to the point where you are endangering the community – that transcends the limits of the First Amendment”.
News of the novel legal action against Fox News comes as Mr Murdoch’s powerful UK tabloidThe Sun has also been found guilty of misreporting on the Coronavirus.
Independent data verifiers at FullFact.org, which campaigns against “bad information”, said Britain’s biggest selling tabloid wrongly “extrapolated” statistics to claim 6.6m Britons already have Covid-19, versus an official tally circa 60,733 as this article was published.
Full Fact found: “This data cannot be extrapolated to the UK population. The number of people with Covid-19 may be higher, lower, or the same as claimed.”
FULL FACT made more findings on examples of disinformation in other major UK media outlets.
On February 17 the Daily Express wrote a story claiming Scientists knew about the new coronavirus long ago and called it “Disease X”.
But Full Fact found: “They didn’t. This is a misunderstanding about the phrase “Disease X”, which the WHO used to denote an unknown serious new disease that might cause a pandemic.”
On March 26, the Daily Star claimed 5G WiFi networks could be responsible for the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.
But Full Fact found: This is not true. There is no evidence that 5G WiFi networks are linked to the new Coronavirus.
- STAY tuned for more developments in this ongoing case