May 29, 2020
A Washington state judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a left-wing activist group claiming Fox News isn’t entitled to First Amendment protections on coverage with which the group disagrees.
A group known as the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) filed suit in April claiming Fox News opinion hosts were spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, and sought an injunction of coverage under Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
Fox News filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that there is a distinction in its coverage between its news division, which emphasized the coronavirus threat, and the opinions of its commentators, who were expressing recommendations for policy. In either case, the network argued it was protected by the First Amendment’s rights to free speech and a free press.
WASHLITE countered that First Amendment protections didn’t extend to Fox News because they were a cable channel and not a newspaper, and that the editorial freedoms they were claiming were actually enjoyed by cable providers such as Comcast or Spectrum that carried the channel (WASHLITE’s amended case against Fox News dropped cable carriers as parties to the action).
The Internet and Television Association, which represents cable programmers and distributors, filed an amicus brief in support of Fox News in the case.
As part of its motion, Fox News listed numerous instances of other press outlets downplaying the significance of COVID-19 as it began to spread out of China in December, January and February, though none of the other outlets were targeted by WASHLITE. Fox News frequently draws the ire of left-wing activists for providing a larger degree of conservative access to its coverage than other news outlets.
Following a hearing May 21, Superior Court Judge Brian McDonald May 27 granted Fox News’ motion to dismiss, citing that the First Amendment protections afforded to cable news channels as press outlets are clearly established and that WASHLITE’s claims were baseless.
“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,” Fox News stated following the dismissal.
WASHLITE has vowed to appeal.