A judge in Seattle dismissed Wednesday a lawsuit by a Washington state special interest group against Fox News that claimed the network disseminated erroneous and dangerous information about the coronavirus outbreak, The Hill reported.
According to Deadline, The Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) claimed that Fox News’ COVID-19 content amounted to a “campaign of deception and omission regarding the danger of the international proliferation of the novel coronavirus.”
Superior Court Judge Brian McDonald seemed to reveal himself as no fan of Fox News, calling the lawsuit “laudable,” but dismissing it anyway because WASHLITE was unable to overcome one serious hurdle — namely, the First Amendment.
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” McDonald said in tossing the case, according to The Hill.
Fox fights back
Newsweek reported that WASHLITE’s lawsuit argued that by touting allegedly false information about COVID-19, Fox News hindered “implementation of effective mitigation and countermeasures against the virus” among viewers who believed what they heard during network coverage of the pandemic.
According to IJR, WASHLITE attorney Liz Hallock alleged: “We are not trying to chill free speech here. But we believe the public was endangered by false and deceptive communications in the stream of commerce.”
Fox News countered with the contention that the First Amendment clearly bars such a suit, but also asserted that WASHLITE’s portrayal of its coronavirus-related content was in itself inaccurate.
“Using a false portrayal of FOX News Channel’s commentary, WASHLITE attempted to silence a national news organization to settle a partisan grievance,” the network said in a statement, according to The Hill.
Group vows to appeal
One of the specific targets mentioned in WASHLITE’s complaint was Fox News prime time host Sean Hannity, who they accused of calling the virus a “hoax” back in February of this year.
Hannity clarified the comments cited in the lawsuit to Newsweek shortly thereafter, saying, “I never called it a ‘hoax.’ I said it was a hoax for [Democrats] to be using it as a bludgeon on Trump.”
WASHLITE indicated that the group plans to appeal the decision to the Washington state appellate court, according to The Hill.
“We have a lot of respect for the judge,” WASHLITE spokesman Arthur West said. “It’s a well-reasoned opinion. It was thorough. We respectfully disagree.”