Attorneys for Fox News have filed a Motion to Dismiss a lawsuit initiated by a ragtag group of Washington state progressives who’d like to have a federal judge impose a gag order on the network’s coronavirus coverage.
Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) filed a complaint in early April alleging that:
Fox News and the other named Defendants willfully and maliciously engaged in a campaign of deception and omission regarding the danger of the international proliferation of the novel Coronavirus…While acting in the broad stream of commerce, Defendants knowingly disseminated false, erroneous, and incomplete information, which was reasonably relied upon by the public and which had the effect of delaying and interfering with the implementation of effective mitigation and countermeasures against the virus.
As a result of reasonable reliance upon the false information spread by the Defendants on the part of public officials, the public and members of WASHLITE appropriate and timely actions to contain the spread of the pandemic were postponed, delayed,or ignored. The continuing uncertainty caused by the Defendants undercuts effective implementation of reasonable and necessary measures to contain the spread of the pandemic.
As is probably apparent by reading the allegations, the lawsuit “was almost immediately and universally dismissed by legal scholars and media critics alike as lacking merit.”
In addition, how does anything a host or guest on Fox News opines about the coronavirus affect government action? If WASHLITE has a problem with King County’s coronavirus response, they should take it up with their governor and county leaders.
Most glaringly, WASHLITE’s “leaders” seem to completely ignore the First Amendment.
In a press release, Fox News said:
As explained in the motion, WASHLITE’s “claims here are frivolous because the statements at issue are core political speech on matters of public concern. The First Amendment does not permit censoring this type of speech based on the theory that it is ‘false’ or ‘outrageous.’ Nor does the law of the State of Washington.” Accordingly, the motion calls upon the court to dismiss as a matter of law WASHLITE’s misguided attempt to use a lawsuit to stifle Fox News commentary or the viewpoints of its hosts.
The filing includes a 61-page appendix exposing the inaccuracies in the WASHLITE complaint, with transcripts clearly showing FOX News Channel hosts warning about the severity of the virus, while also pointing out commentary downplaying the outbreak from multiple media outlets, including CNN and the New York Times.
Statements of Fox News’ hosts and guests are, as the motion states, “core political speech on a matter of public concern. As the motion states:
“Fox’s statements are core political speech on a matter of public concern—how dangerous the Coronavirus is, and how society should respond to it. Under the First Amendment and state law, the truth or falsity of this type of speech must be resolved through free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas—not through burdensome litigation seeking to impose legal penalties on political statements that a jury might deem ‘false’ or ‘outrageous.’”
This should be an easy win for Fox News, but they’re right to publicly and loudly fight back against this lame attempt at intimidation.