Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who Donald Trump paid $150,000 in hush money ahead of the 2016 election to keep quiet about an extramarital affair he allegedly had with her in 2006 and 2007, has had her defamation suit against Fox News dismissed by a judge.
The Hill reports that McDougal filed a lawsuit last year against Fox News, accusing their host Tucker Carlson of slander after Carlson—a reliably execrable figure known for trafficking in the worst kinds of bigotry, right-wing apologia, and misinformation—referred to her payoff from Trump as “a classic case of extortion.” In doing so Carlson, who has no intimate knowledge of the payment or the underlying affair, was simply doing what he always does: defending Donald Trump on behalf of the plutocrats who run Fox News.
Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil said that McDougal failed to provide evidence that Carlson’s actions met the legal requirements for defamation and that he was simply engaged in “rhetorical hyperbole” in his role as a television host who shares opinions. While it’s unfair to presume that it had any bearing on the case without evidence, The Hill does point out that Vyskocil was appointed to the bench by the Trump administration.
“The statements are rhetorical hyperbole and opinion commentary intended to frame a political debate, and, as such, are not actionable as defamation,” stated Judge Vyskocil.
While this ruling is unfortunate for McDougal, it does offer an interesting perspective on how Fox News views itself, which is to say not as real news at all. The argument that Carlson can’t be held accountable for his words because he was simply offering his personal opinion on world events undermines any argument that he should be taken seriously. Essentially, Fox and Carlson are arguing that he can say anything he wants, regardless of how untrue, because he’s not reporting straight news. They don’t believe he has any obligation to tell the truth.
In fact, at one point in the legal documents from the case, Fox argued that viewers know not to believe everything Carlson says on his television show because his “reputation” would lead “any reasonable viewer” to bring an “appropriate amount of skepticism” to his remarks. In other words, Carlson has such a widespread reputation for dishonesty that viewers should know better than to uncritically swallow what he says during his segments. It’s a staggering admission to make about the man who provides millions of Americans with their primary news diet and a powerful argument for why all of us should avoid Carlson at all costs.
Court goes on to note that even if the statements were actionable, McDougal did not sufficiently plead "actual malice" where she merely suggested that Tucker and the president have a political agreement or personal relationship based on Trump tweets. pic.twitter.com/lb6a3YjQFA
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) September 24, 2020
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