Commentary

Rachel Maddow's Court Victory Bodes Well For Right-Wing Media

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 media outlet.
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 fees.
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.

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1 comment about "Rachel Maddow's Court Victory Bodes Well For Right-Wing Media".
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  1. Dane Claussen from University of Idaho, August 19, 2021 at 10:16 p.m.

    The Maddow decision does NOT bode well for Fox News, Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, OAN, Newsmax and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne. Maddow's one statement was an exaggeration, a bit of rhetorical hyperbole, in between lots of factual statements that were reported and confirmed. The First Amendment does not require that journalists never make a single factual error, or even that they completely avoid characterizations of facts that, in hindsight, were exaggerations. On the other hand, the words from the defendants in the Smartmatic and Dominion lawsuits seemed to have been intentional lies and/or statements made with reckless disregard of the truth. Judge Cohen's questioning seems to be establishing that not only were there NO facts to support any defamatory statements about the voting machine companies, but no attempts to even find any facts to support those defamatory statements. In that situation, it does not matter if the voting machine companies are ruled as limited-purpose public figures and as newsworthy subjects of media attention. Maddow won, and so should Smartmatic and Dominion. I note your story does not cite any expert or text on libel law. Perhaps you should have talked with one.

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