COVID LAWSUIT: WASHLITE ‘fake news’ case vs Fox News struck out in court

  • FOX NEWS sees landmark legal action dismissed by judge
  • WASHINGTON-BASED activist organisation Washlite had accused Fox News of “maliciously” branding Covid-19 a “hoax” contributing to a “public health crisis and preventable mass death”
  • FOX NEWS insisted it was protected by First Amendment – and found surprising ally in lobbying groups representing rivals CNN and MSNBC
  • JUDGE SIDED with Fox News and struck out the case
  • WASHLITE SAYS it will appeal

FOX NEWS has succeeded in striking out a fake news lawsuit that named 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 was 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.

However, Fox News filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit from the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE), claiming there was a distinction in its coverage between its news division, which emphasised the coronavirus threat, and the opinions of its commentators, who were expressing their own recommendations for policy.

The network also argued it was protected by the USA’s First Amendment’s rights to free speech and a free press.

WASHLITE countered that First Amendment protections didn’t extend to Fox News because they were a cable channel and not a newspaper, and that the editorial freedoms they were claiming were actually enjoyed by cable providers such as Comcast or Spectrum that carried the channel.

As part of its motion, Fox News listed numerous instances of other press outlets downplaying the significance of COVID-19 as it began to spread out of China in December, January and February, though as none of the other outlets were targeted by WASHLITE, Fox News said the case was politically motivated.

The organisation found a surprising ally in The Internet and Television Association which represents cable programmers and distributors including Fox News’ rivals CNN and MSNBC and filed an ‘amicus’ brief in support.

Last month a Washington state judge sided with Fox and struck out the action.

Following a hearing on May 21, Superior Court Judge Brian McDonald granted Fox News’ motion to dismiss, citing that the First Amendment protections afforded to cable news channels as press outlets are clearly established and that WASHLITE’s claims were baseless.

Fox News said afterwards in a statement: “Using a false portrayal of Fox News Channel’s commentary, WASHLITE attempted to silence a national news organization to settle a partisan grievance.

“This was not only wrong, but contemptuous of the foundation of free speech and we are both pleased the court dismissed this frivolous case and grateful to the First Amendment community that rallied to our side.”

Each side is bearing its own costs in the matter.

WASHLITE’s Arthur West  reportedly said: “David doesn’t always have to win against Goliath, you know. You fight a guerrilla war. You don’t always win every engagement. But the important thing is that you don’t give up, and we’re not giving up. We’re going to appeal.”

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