Lawsuit Against Fox News’ Free Speech Rights Is Dismissed After Owners Of CNN, NBC, Other Major Legacy Outlets Back The Network

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Shelby Talcott Media Reporter
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A lawsuit filed by the activist nonprofit group WASHLITE against Fox News over its coronavirus coverage was dismissed Wednesday.

WASHLITE sued Fox News in April, claiming that the network was involved in a “campaign of deception and omission regarding the danger of the international proliferation of the novel coronavirus.” The activist group also claimed that “cable programmers do not have First Amendment rights.”

The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) filed an amicus brief May 18 in support of Fox News’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

NCTA is made up of the owners of major media companies. Members include Warner Media, which owns CNN and HLN, Comcast, which owns NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo and A&E, which owns Vice TV. RCFP includes well-known reporters and executives from publications such as ABC News, CNN, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others.

“Using a false portrayal of FOX News Channel’s commentary, WASHLITE attempted to silence a national news organization to settle a partisan grievance,” Fox News said in a statement responding to the lawsuit’s dismissal Wednesday.

“This was not only wrong, but contemptuous of the foundation of free speech and we are both pleased the court dismissed this frivolous case and grateful to the First Amendment community that rallied to our side.” (RELATED: Nonprofit Suing Fox News Over Its Coronavirus Reporting Requests Judge Be Removed)

NCTA and RCFP backed Fox News amid the lawsuit by contending WASHLITE’s First Amendment claim. The amicus brief pointed out that “The First Amendment unquestionably protects ‘[c]able programmers.”

“Plaintiffs’ position would allow the government to censor not just Fox News but also CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg, ESPN, and every other cable network. That is as dangerous as it is frivolous,” Fox News previously wrote in its reply to WASHLITE’s First Amendment claim.

Judge Brian McDonald agreed with Fox News, NCTA and RCFP, writing that although the group’s alleged goal of ensuring the public receives good information regarding the virus “is laudable,” the network is covered under the First Amendment.

“However, the means employed here, a [consumer protection] claim against a cable news channel, runs afoul of the protections of the First Amendment,” McDonald wrote according to Deadline.