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Fox News pushes back hard against liberal lawsuit: We can’t be silenced by ‘judicial gag order’

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Falling back on First Amendment protections, Fox News is not about to let a liberal nonprofit silence the network without a battle, asking a judge in Washington state to dismiss what it called a “frivolous” lawsuit.

The Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) filed a lawsuit claiming Fox News’s coverage of COVID-19 violated Washington’s consumer protection laws and legally resulted in intentional infliction of emotional distress, Law & Crime reported.

In effect, since they don’t like what the network is reporting, they are seeking to take away its voice.

On Tuesday, Fox News filed court papers accusing the activist group of launching a “frontal assault on the freedom of speech,” an attack that “flagrantly violates the First Amendment and fails to state a claim,” according to the legal news website.

The documents called the group’s lawsuit “frivolous because the statements at issue are core political speech on matters of public concern.”

“The First Amendment does not permit censoring this type of speech based on the theory that it is ‘false’ or ‘outrageous,’” the network added. “Nor does the law of the State of Washington.”

The documents argue that the complaint must be resolved “through free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas.”

Egad! This being the very antithesis of what the left stands for.

“Fox’s statements are core political speech on a matter of public concern — how dangerous the coronavirus is, and how society should respond to it. Under the First Amendment and state law, the truth or falsity of this type of speech must be resolved through free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas — not through burdensome litigation seeking to impose legal penalties on political statements that a jury might deem ‘false’ or ‘outrageous.’”

Fox News dismissed the lawsuit in a press release as an attempt “to impose a judicial gag order” on its coverage.

“It’s Constitutional Law 101: the First Amendment protects our right to speak openly and freely on matters of public concern,” said Fox News Media General Counsel and Executive Vice President Lily Fu Claffee. “If WASHLITE doesn’t like what we said, it can criticize us, but it can’t silence us with a lawsuit.”

The same day Fox New petitioned the court, the attorney representing WASHLITE, Elizabeth Hallock, suddenly withdrew as counsel.

Law & Crime could not determine a reason for Hallock’s withdrawal, but reported the new attorney for the group is Catherine C. Clark — Hallock just happens to be running for governor of Washington on the Green Party ticket.

When asked by Times of San Diego if she considered the proposed injunction a “gag order” as Fox News contends, Clark replied, “I cannot answer this question as it asks me to divulge information protected by the attorney client privilege and/or the work product doctrine.”

Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, told the independent news site the lawsuit was a bad idea from the start.

“Suing a news organization for making misleading statements isn’t going to go anywhere,” Nelson said. “It wouldn’t be that hard to prove that the Fox commentators were expressing their opinions, or using political speech, which historically had been protected with First Amendment rulings.”

Tom Tillison

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