By Judy Greenwald
A lawsuit filed against Fox News for its allegedly “erroneous” and “incomplete” coronavirus coverage violates its First Amendment protections, a state court ruled in dismissing the litigation.
The lawsuit filed by the Olympia, Washington-based Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) charged that Fox’s actions were a clear violation of the state Consumer Protection Act. The suit — Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, a Washington non-profit corporation, v. Fox News, Fox News Group, Fox News Corp., Rupert Murdoch, AT&T TV, Comcast — was filed in state court in Seattle in April.
The lawsuit sought an order enjoining Fox from televising any misinformation regarding COVID-19, an order directing Fox to issue specific retractions of every false and/or misleading statement, and treble damages, according to the ruling.
The lawsuit cited in particular March 9 broadcasts by Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Trish Regan. Ms. Regan was fired by the network after she said coronavirus concerns were another attempt to impeach President Donald Trump. Mr. Hannity remains at the network.
Fox filed a motion to dismiss the case in April, which was joined on May 18 by amicus briefs filed by the Washington D.C.-based NCTA-The Internet & Television Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, according to the ruling.
WASHLITE “argues that Fox, as a cable programmer, does not have the same First Amendment rights accorded to newspapers and broadcast television stations,” the ruling said.
“These assertions do not hold up to scrutiny,” the ruling said. It cites a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Turner Broadcasting System v. FCC, which states, ”There can be no disagreement on an initial premise: Cable and cable operators engage in and transmit speech, and they are entitled to the protection of the speech and press provisions of the First Amendment.”
The state court ruling states, “WASHLITE’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 Act) claim against a cable news channel, runs afoul of the protections of the First Amendment.”
Fox said 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.”
WASHLITE attorney Catherine C. Clark, of the Law Office of Catherine C. Clark PLLC in Seattle, said in a statement, “An appeal will be filed within the designated appeal period.”