Free Speech in a Pandemic: Fox News Fighting Misinformation Lawsuit

During the coronavirus spread there has been no shortage of politics in the media when it comes to reporting the pandemic. President Trump has used his daily COVID-19 press briefings at times as a bully pulpit to advocate his political agenda as much as advocating washing hands and wearing scarves in the absence of face masks.

Fox News, which Trump follows intently, is now facing litigation from left-leaning political groups claiming that it misled the public from the beginning on the severity of the coronavirus — a pandemic that through April 15 has generated 644,000 cases in the U.S., including 28,500 deaths.

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Fox News Media operates the Fox News Channel, among others, including direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service Fox Nation. FNC has been the most-watched television news channel for more than 18 consecutive years.

A lawsuit was filed earlier this month by the left-wing Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE), a group in Washington state hoping to impose a judicial gag order on Fox opinion commentary regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Trump, reportedly, has generated much of his initial response to the virus, from Fox News.

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Fox lawyers April 15 argued in a court motion (and press release) that the suit is frivolous because the statements at issue are core political speech on matters of public concern. Fox contends the First Amendment does not permit censoring this type of speech.

Fox is calling on the court to dismiss as a matter of law the plaintiff’s  “misguided” attempt to use litigation to stifle Fox News commentary or the viewpoints of its hosts.

“It’s Constitutional Law 101: the First Amendment protects our right to speak openly and freely on matters of public concern,” Fox News Media General Counsel and EVP Lily Fu Claffee said in a statement. “If WASHLITE doesn’t like what we said, it can criticize us, but it can’t silence us with a lawsuit.”

Fox’s New’s motion includes a 61-page appendix listing what it calls inaccuracies in the WASHLITE complaint, with transcripts showing Fox News Channel hosts warning about the severity of the virus, while also pointing out commentary downplaying the outbreak from multiple media outlets, including CNN and the New York Times.

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