MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow this week scored another legal victory when an appeals court upheld a ruling that found she didn’t defame conservative network One America News (OAN). The decision
may benefit OAN and Fox News Channel in fending off billion-dollar defamation suits in connection with their reporting on alleged election fraud.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
said Maddow’s comments that described OAN as “paid Russian
propaganda” were protected speech. Maddow in 2019 had referred to a Daily Beast
story that described how OAN employee Kristian Rouz also worked for Sputnik News, a Russia state-owned
OAN, which is owned by Herring Networks, sued Maddow for $10 million, claiming her remarks were “malicious and utterly false.” U.S. District Judge
Cynthia Bashant in May 2020 threw out the suit, ruling there were "no set of facts that could support a claim for defamation based on Maddow's statement."
The appeals court
backed that ruling, determining that “Maddow’s statement was well within the bounds of what qualified as protected speech under the First Amendment. The challenged statement was an obvious
exaggeration, cushioned within an undisputed news story.”
The three-judge panel also upheld a lower court decision requiring OAN to pay $250,000 of Maddow's legal
The ruling is notable as Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, the makers of voting machines, sue conservative media outlets for defamation.
Smartmatic in February sued Fox News and two of Donald Trump's former lawyers, Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, accusing them of spreading a false claim that the company had rigged the election.
A judge in that case
this week questioned Fox News’
motion for a dismissal.
Dominion this month filed defamation suits against OAN, Newsmax and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne. The barrage of litigation followed earlier suits
against Fox News, Giuliani, Powell and Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow.
The Maddow defense that such statements were obvious exaggerations may be useful in seeking dismissal of
these suits. It would be ironic if OAN were granted a dismissal on similar grounds.