A Washington state judge has tossed out a public interest group’s lawsuit against Fox News, claiming that the network violated consumer protection laws via its coronavirus coverage.
The Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, or WASH LITE, sued the network in early April, claiming that its coverage violated the state’s consumer protection laws by engaging in a “campaign of deception and omission regarding the danger of the international proliferation of the novel coronavirus.” Also named in the lawsuit were parent Fox Corp. and two channel distributors, AT&T and Comcast, as well as Rupert Murdoch.
Judge Brian McDonald wrote that the public interest group’s “professed goal in this lawsuit — to ensure that the public receives accurate information about the coronavirus and COVID-19 — is laudable. However, the means employed here, a [consumer protection] claim against a cable news channel, runs afoul of the protections of the First Amendment.”
In its motion to dismiss, Fox News outlined instances where where its hosts warned of the severity of the crisis. The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and NCTA — The Internet & Television Association filed an amicus brief in the case in support of the network.
In a statement, the network said, “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.”
The WASH LITE lawsuit specifically cited statements made by Fox News personality Sean Hannity and then-Fox Business host Trish Regan on March 9, arguing that they acted in “bad faith to willfully and maliciously disseminate false information denying and minimizing the danger posed by the coronavirus.”
In one of their replies, Fox News said in a brief that WASH LITE “cannot hide that their assault on the First Amendment rests on a false portrayal of what Fox’s commentary actually said. Fortunately, in all events, the Constitution protects Fox’s speech even accepting the Complaint’s distortions.”
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