‘Mainstream’ media rivals come to aid Fox News against lawsuit over network’s coronavirus coverage

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Though most Left-leaning “mainstream media” outlets and journalists are bitter professional rivals of Right-leaning Fox News, there are things they can all agree on and that includes the basic premise of press freedom as recognized and protected by the First Amendment.

As such, two major journalism and media groups have asked a Washington State judge for permission to file a “friends of the court” brief — amici curiae — in a lawsuit that’s been filed by an activist organization against Fox News and some cable TV providers, even as additional media players are attempting to defend the network as well, Law & Crime reports.

The little-known group WASHLITE — Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics — alleges in its lawsuit that Fox News has violated the state’s consumer protection statute by calling itself a “news” broadcast.

Specifically, the group alleges that Fox News committed the “tort of outrage,” or intentionally inflicted emotional distress, by downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and, as such, cannot be legally considered a “news” broadcast.

The broadcasts allegedly caused viewers to inadequately protect themselves or mitigate the spread of the virus, and therefore led to a public health crisis and preventable deaths, the suit says, the Seattle Times adds.

The network says that the group’s lawsuit is just an attempt to stifle free speech and expression, as well as shutting down opinions it doesn’t agree with.

The media groups that want to file a friend-of-the-court brief are the Internet & Television Association (NCTA) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP).

Law & Crime notes:

NCTA is chaired by Michael Powell, the former FCC chairman nominated by President Bill Clinton. Its member companies include the corporate owners of a number of major media conglomerates, including A+E Networks, Comcast NBCUniversal, C-SPAN, Discovery, Fox, the Hallmark Channel, ViacomCBS, WarnerMedia, Univision, and the Disney Media Network (ABC).  (A+E Networks owns a portion of Law&Crime.)

Meanwhile, the site notes that the RCFP is comprised of top reporters and executives from “Reuters, Time Magazine, ProPublica, ABC News, CNN, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, POLITICO, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, the New York Times, NPR, and the PBS NewsHour.”

The latter organization provides legal research and guidance to reporters around the country.

“NCTA and the Reporters Committee frequently participate in litigation in courts throughout the country, including in particular to ensure that their members’ First Amendment protections are upheld,” a court filing said. “The issues presented in this case are of substantial constitutional significance.”

The liberal group’s “opposition brief raised for the first time the argument that cable news providers somehow lack First Amendment protection,” the amici documents noted. “That radical proposition is plainly wrong: The First Amendment unquestionably protects cable programmers.”

“Cable programmers and cable operators . . . are entitled to the protection of the speech and press provisions of the First Amendment,” the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 1994 case cited by Fox News.  “[T]he basic principles of freedom of speech and the press . . . do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears,” another cited Supreme Court case notes.

Fox News has also argued in court filings that the WASHLITE 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,” the network added.

On the substance of WASHLITE’s claim, the amici groups argued against the position “that news providers do not enjoy First Amendment protection when they distribute their programming over a cable television system,” while also referencing similar case law to one argued earlier Monday in a similar Fox News brief. “Since the advent of cable television, the Supreme Court has explained time and again that cable programmers are protected by the First Amendment.”

The groups did not address Fox News’ programming, nor should they have. Other networks feature hosts who have their own views on issues of the day. Rather, they backed Fox’s right to have a point of view and to broadcast it freely.


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