A Washington nonprofit has filed a lawsuit against Fox News alleging that the media company violated the state's consumer protection laws by airing false information about the coronavirus pandemic — and one Fox executive says the network is expecting other similar lawsuits to follow close behind.
What are the details?
According to the Times of San Diego, the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, or WASHLITE, filed the 10-page complaint last Thursday, peddling the claim that Fox News called the pandemic a "hoax" in the early days of the outbreak.
In the suit, plaintiffs argue that Fox News and other outlets controlled by Rupert Murdoch "falsely and deceptively disseminat[ed] 'News' via cable news contracts that the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 was a 'Hoax,' and that the virus was otherwise not a danger to public health and safety."
"While acting in the broad stream of commerce, Defendants knowingly disseminated false, erroneous, and incomplete information," the lawsuit added.
"Which had the effect of delaying and interfering with the implementation of effective mitigation and countermeasures against the virus."
The lawsuit demands an injunction against the media company to prevent it from "interfering with or undermining the legitimate control measures" until the pandemic is brought under control.
One of WASHLITE's board members, 59-year-old Arthur West, bragged that he has made "a very good living beating the government in court" as he described his background in lawsuits against taxpayer-funded agencies that have resulted in six-figure awards. But, he assured that the complaint against Fox is no public relations stunt.
"We're not doing this to make a million dollars," he said. "We're doing this because we seriously believe that Fox's coverage was outrageous and intolerable and interfered with an effective response to the coronavirus."
Fox News shot back after the complaint was announced. Lily Fu Claffee, general counsel for Fox News Media, blasted the lawsuit in a statement, calling it "wrong on the facts" and "frivolous on the law."
"We will defend vigorously and seek sanctions as appropriate," she added.
The Murdochs are lawyering up
In a conversation about the lawsuit, an anonymous top Murdoch executive reportedly told the Daily Beast that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, the father-and-son moguls who control Fox, are ready to go to war with other potential plaintiffs should more lawsuits be filed.
The executive reportedly said that the Murdochs don't plan to cave to public interest lawsuits. He claimed that the company's decision to part ways with Fox Business anchor Trish Regan was a move to placate critics.
"She was a sacrificial lamb," he said before adding that the Murdochs are not going to make any more concessions. "The strategy is no settlements, even if it costs way more to fight the lawsuit and seek sanctions for ambulance-chasing lawyers," he added.
The Daily Beast notes, however, that lawsuits such as WASHLITE's will likely fight an uphill battle in court on First Amendment grounds.
West disagrees. He told the Times of San Diego that "it's like the theater thing."
"Up to the point where you get up in the theater and yell 'Fire!' you can say whatever you want. But when you get to the point where you are endangering the community — that transcends the limits of the First Amendment," he argued.
On March 30, days before the filing, former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly tweeted in support of her former employer, saying that any lawsuits attacking Fox for misinformation "would be laughed out of court."