- FOX NEWS chairman Rupert Murdoch is named defendant in landmark 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 company after claiming coronavirus was ‘scam’ to ‘impeach Trump’
- NOW FOX is seeking to strike out the lawsuit as an affront to its right to free speech – branding its opponents Orwellian
FOX NEWS is seeking to strike out a “fake news” lawsuit that names Rupert Murdoch as a defendant over claims his US-based news channel “maliciously” risked public health by dismissing Covid-19 as a politically motivated hoax.
The 89-year-old Chairman of Fox Corporation had been cited along with three of his companies and cable partners AT&T TV and Comcast in a landmark action brought by a Washington-based non-profit activist group after Fox presenters Sean Hannity and Trish Regan claimed the danger posed by Coronavirus was being overblown by critics of the Trump administration.
But Fox News lawyers hit back, filing a court document filled with emotive language seeking to dismiss the case on the basis it was merely an attempt to stifle its right to free speech.
Using phrases such as “Ministry of Truth” – a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 – and “Committee on Public Safety”, a reference to Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror” during the French Revolution, the 160-page submission compared the initial action by the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) to the “totalitarian” regimes of “Russia and Iran”.
Fox accused WASHLITE of “cherry-pick[ing] 18 different statements about the Coronavirus” from various Fox broadcasts, “plucking them out of context,” and “characterizing the statements as falsely contradicting the views of the Trump Administration and Governor Inslee [of Washington] by minimizing the lethality of COVID-19.”
The new motion’s opening paragraph read: “Plaintiffs launch a frontal assault on the First Amendment by seeking a gag order and a retraction by judicial fiat against Fox News for airing allegedly ‘deceptive’ commentary about the Coronavirus outbreak.
“Anointing themselves as both the Committee on Public Safety and the Ministry of Truth, they seek to punish Fox for speech that they deem ‘false’ and dangerous because it does not conform to the official viewpoint of the government and their own proclaimed omniscience and certitude.
“Plaintiffs request a prior restraint prohibiting Fox from airing future speech that contradicts the government’s proclamations.
“Worse, they request an order forcing Fox to recant past commentary and affirmatively endorse the government’s viewpoint.
“They also seek ‘treble damages’ based on vague and unspecified harms that they claim to have suffered as a result of Fox’s commentary.
“By this lawsuit, Plaintiffs seek to restrain, control, and penalize what commentators and opinion hosts may say about the most pressing public controversy of our time.
“Fortunately, neither the First Amendment nor Washington state law allows such brazen interference with the freedom of the press. The case must be dismissed as a matter of law.”
Judge Brian McDonald in King County Superior Court will decide the motion via teleconference call, which is open to the public.
That hearing is currently set for May 21, and WASHLITE have until May 11 to file a response.
WASHLITE claims Fox News had led its mostly older viewers into a false sense of security regarding COVID-19 and pointed to Mr Hannity and Ms Regan as chief protagonists.
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 Trump.
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 America’s death toll standing at around 57,000 as this story was published.
The initial 10-page legal filing 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.”
Representing WASHLITE, Catherine Clark has asked the court to order Fox News to issue retractions of “each and every false and/or misleading statement televised through its cable television stations relating to COVID-19.”
Clark also asked the judge to order Fox to “cease and desist televising any misinformation regarding COVID-19,” as per Washington State’s unfair business practices law.
A WASHLITE spokesman said: “The 1st Amendment issues are not as cut and dried as Fox would have the public believe.
“There are a long line of Supreme Court cases that hold that reasonable restrictions upon even our hallowed 1st Amendment freedoms are acceptable when necessary in extraordinary cases to protect society from the dangers of significant antisocial acts or communicable disease.”
However, Fox News lawyers said censoring allegedly “false” statements surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 debate would undermine the “robust public discussion” protected by the First Amendment.
The motion added: “After all, if journalists can be sued for allegedly understating the dangers of the virus, then they can also be sued for overstating the dangers (thereby damaging businesses that are forced to close).
“If that type of censorship is allowed, then nobody will be free to express an opinion on either side of the debate without risking costly litigation and legal penalties.”