The League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) in Washington, has filed a lawsuit against Fox News for spreading false news. They are seeking to have the network barred from “interfering with reasonable and necessary measures to contain the virus by publishing further false and deceptive content.”
Fox’s coverage initially pushed that the epidemic is “hoax,” then it is not a danger to health and safety, and finally to aggressively campaigning against distancing and lock down, as the number of infections started to increase rapidly.
Lawyers for Fox have countered by suggesting that the Second Amendment of the constitution of the United States, which covers the right to free speech, gives them protection. There has been no attempt to deny the allegations.in fact, they say the law protects “false” and “outrageous” claims.
Nevertheless, the suit argues that the network repeatedly violated the Consumer Protection Act, by “falsely and deceptively disseminating ‘news’.
News host Sean Hannity and former Fox Business host Trish Regan were specifically cited.
But it has not only been these two. There are numerous examples in Fox. Despite this, there is a considerable body of legal opinion that because of the Second amendment, a decision will not go against Fox.
Fox in action during COVID-19 and Ebola
Video from the Times of San Diego
This case shows up a double standard in the American legal system. Fox will probably be permitted to say whatever it likes. Julian Assange is hunted down for exercising the same right.
Prosecutors claim that Assange put lives at risk, although no credible evidence that this is true has ever been put forward. In contrast, it is obvious that COVID-19 is real. More than 10,000 have already died, and efforts to undermine the necessary response will cost lives.
It brings up the simple matter that the right to free speech comes together with a responsibility to not cause harm. The American legal system has the capacity to apply this on paper. But is it that the outcome is more or less assured, because in practice the law is applied according to who you are and not what you do.
Fox is owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who has political connections in very high places, has the resources to spend fortunes on an army of lawyers, and perhaps more importantly, the power to make or break political careers, and it must be said make or break the careers of judges.
This case is not about opinion. The litany of false and misleading claims put forward as news is on the public record. To be allowed to lie is not the same thing as protecting free speech.
A letter signed by more than 70 journalism professors around the country criticized Fox News for spreading “misinformation” about the virus.
“Viewers of Fox News, including the president of the United States, have been regularly subjected to misinformation relayed by the network — false statements downplaying the prevalence of COVID-19 and its harms; misleading recommendations of activities that people should undertake to protect themselves and others, including casual recommendations of untested drugs; false assessments of the value of measures urged upon the public by their elected political leadership and public health authorities,” the letter said. It pointed to a recent poll that found that 79 percent of Fox News viewers believed the media had overstated the danger posed by the virus.
Most damning, is that this was is not about opinion pieces from individuals. Misinformation is systematic through Fox, spearhead of Murdoch’s political campaign to further an ideology that many people find is odious, and a continuation of the Murdoch tabloid style, favouring created sensations and gossip, over investigated fact.
Legal culpability aside, media analysts have widely criticized Fox News for putting their viewers at risk by downplaying the threat posed by the virus, which has now killed over 26,000 people in the United States.