FOX News Defends First Amendment Freedoms in Motion to Dismiss WASHLITE Suit Over Coronavirus Coverage
FOX News Media has moved to dismiss a lawsuit by the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) seeking to restrain the network’s Coronavirus coverage, announced Christopher Lovrien, most recently the Partner-in-Charge of the California Region of Jones Day, which filed the motion on behalf of FOX.
The motion, filed today, asks that a Washington State trial court firmly and swiftly reject the claims filed by WASHLITE, an activist group seeking to impose a judicial gag order on FOX opinion commentary regarding the Coronavirus outbreak. As explained in the motion, WASHLITE’s “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.” Accordingly, the motion calls upon the court to dismiss as a matter of law WASHLITE’s misguided attempt to use a lawsuit to stifle Fox News commentary or the viewpoints of its hosts.
The motion to dismiss characterizes the WASHLITE complaint as a “frontal assault on the freedom of speech” that “flagrantly violates the First Amendment and fails to state a claim.” The motion further explains that “Fox’s statements are core political speech on a matter of public concern—how dangerous the Coronavirus is, and how society should respond to it. Under the First Amendment and state law, the truth or falsity of this type of speech must be resolved through free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas—not through burdensome litigation seeking to impose legal penalties on political statements that a jury might deem ‘false’ or ‘outrageous.’”
The WASHLITE complaint was filed as a self-described “citizen’s action” against FOX News Channel, among other named defendants, on April 2nd but was almost immediately and universally dismissed by legal scholars and media critics alike as lacking merit.
FOX News Media General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Lily Fu Claffee commented, “It’s Constitutional Law 101: the First Amendment protects our right to speak openly and freely on matters of public concern. If WASHLITE doesn’t like what we said, it can criticize us, but it can’t silence us with a lawsuit.”
The filing includes a 61-page appendix exposing the inaccuracies in the WASHLITE complaint, with transcripts clearly 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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