FOX News has asked for a lawsuit brought by the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE), which alleges the media outlet has disseminated false information about coronavirus and poses a threat to public health as a result, to be dismissed.
In a court filing, FOX denied its opinion hosts ever downplayed the severity of the pandemic, and claimed statements by hosts Sean Hannity and Trish Regan cited in the lawsuit were protected under the First Amendment.
“The 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,” the network wrote.
— Byline Investigates (@BInvestigates) April 9, 2020
WASHLITE claim FOX’s broadcasting of false Covid19 information violates Washington state's consumer protection statute, and “wilfully and maliciously” spread false information and deliberately inflicted emotional distress in the process. Moreover, by dismissing the dangers of coronavirus, FOX are accused of “delaying and interfering with the implementation of effective mitigation and countermeasures against the virus”. The network, its parent companies, Rupert Murdoch and AT&T and Comcast are all named defendants, and the group seeks declaratory relief, and asks the judge to block the network from broadcasting false information about the pandemic in the future.
The suit was filed 2nd April, the same day dozens of journalism professors and journalists penned an open letter to FOX chief Rupert Murdoch, accusing the network of regularly blasting misinformation about the pandemic at viewers. Particular concern was expressed over the misinformation reaching the ears and minds of older viewers, given the average age of FOX viewers is 65, a demographic among the most at-risk of contracting coronavirus, which has infected 644,200 and killed 28,580 as of 16th April 2020.
— JohnFordBlagger (@JohnFordBlagger) April 4, 2020
Trish Regan’s show was put on indefinite hiatus mid-March after a broadcast in which she branded coronavirus “another attempt to impeach the President”. Sean Hannity’s show remains on-air despite claiming coronavirus was a “new hoax” which Democrats were using to “bludgeon” Donald Trump.
Catherine Clark, counsel for WASHLITE, believes the case raised serious questions about what is and isn’t appropriate speech when the US is under a federally-mandated national health emergency.
“This case asks what are we doing to each other as a country when we’re under such an order from the government over something so vicious and pernicious as this disease, where nobody has herd immunity,” she told website The Hill.