The Times of San Diego reported last week that attorney Liz Hallock had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) against Fox News, Fox News Group, Fox News Corporation, Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch, AT&T TV and Comcast over the broadcast of Fox News’ early broadcasts regarding the novel coronavirus.
“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, COVID-19,” read the court document, filed in the Superior Court of Washington in King County on April 2.
“We are not trying to chill free speech here. But we believe the public was endangered by false and deceptive communications in the stream of commerce,” Hallock, who is also running for the Washington governor seat, said in a phone interview with the Seattle Times on Friday.
“There are a lot of people who listen to Fox News, and they’re not taking the recommendations of public health officials seriously. This is not about money; it’s about making sure the public gets the message this is not a hoax.”
Speaking to the Times of San Diego, Lily Fu Claffee, general counsel for Fox News Media, rejected the accusations raised in the lawsuit, describing it as “wrong on the facts, frivolous on the law. We will defend vigorously and seek sanctions as appropriate.”
While it does not list all the broadcasts which may have been part of the alleged “campaign of deception,” WASHLITE’s suit did cite March 9 broacasts by Sean Hannity and Trish Regan as relevant to its claims.
The “Trish Regan Primetime” broadcast in question, which was one of her last appearances on Fox Business, has repeatedly been cited by news outlets and netizens as evidence of the network’s blind loyalty to US President Donald Trump’s administration. During her March 9 program’s “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam” segment, the Fox Business host accused liberals of cheering on an economic collapse and crisis to “demonize and destroy the president.”
We’ve reached a tipping point. The chorus of hate being leveled at #PresidentTrump is nearing a crescendo as #Dems blame him—and only him—for #coronavirus - a #virus that originated halfway around the world! This is yet another attempt to #impeach THE PRESIDENT. #TrishRegan pic.twitter.com/nU3P4zcONA— Trish Regan (@trish_regan) March 10, 2020
Soon after, Regan stopped appearing on Fox Business for about two weeks before the network released a statement on her departure.
Sean Hannity, who hosts his self-titled “Hannity” program on Fox News, also addressed the novel coronavirus in a March 9 broadcast, saying anti-Trump individuals were “trying to bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.”
HANNITY, March 9:"This scaring the living hell out of people. I see it, again, as like,let's bludgeon Trump with this new hoax."— YpsiGal🇺🇸 (@YpsiGal) April 6, 2020
HANNITY, March 18: "By the way, this program has always taken the coronavirus seriously. We've never called the virus a hoax." pic.twitter.com/xcyRDSbQ3G
While no new litigation has been announced against Fox News and other defendants named in WASHLITE’s suit, the Daily Beast reported Thursday that Murdoch and his oldest son Lachlan, who serves as co-chairman of 21st Century Fox, were prepared to fight any case that came their way and not settle out of court.
“She was a sacrificial lamb,” said an unnamed Murdoch executive who spoke with the outlet, referring to Regan. However, he noted, no such concessions will be made in the courtroom. “The strategy is no settlements, even if it costs way more to fight the lawsuit and seek sanctions for ambulance-chasing lawyers.”