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FOX guilty only of unprofessionalism, not malice

Reported by Chrish - June 11, 2008 -

Last summer Lewiston (ME) school superintendent Leon Levesque filed suit against FOX News to deter them from further "irresponsible reporting." Yeah, well, good luck with that. A judge recently dismissed the suit but had some harsh words for FNC.

Originally,

...The lawsuit contend(ed) that Fox reported the parody as fact on its "Fox and Friends" show on April 23. The show's anchors repeated a comment attributed to Levesque, that "These children have got to learn that ham is not a toy," and that there was an effort afoot to create an "anti-ham response plan."

..."It appears to me that Fox News acted in a grossly irresponsible way and took some information that was really not very plausible, did not do any substantial fact-checking, and put it out as hard news," Kubetz said.

Levesque said he was overwhelmed for days with phone calls and hate mail, including threatening calls to his home.

Fox did a brief on-air retraction, but Levesque called it unsatisfactory. A Fox News spokesman in New York said the company does not comment on pending lawsuits."

Last week,

"Judge Brock Hornby concluded that Fox News was unprofessional in reporting false and "outrageous quotations" without confirming their accuracy.

The report demonstrated "an extreme departure from professional standards," Hornby wrote. But Fox did not act out of malice, he concluded.

Levesque said he was "bewildered" by Hornby's ruling. If the Fox broadcast "does not constitute reckless disregard, what does?"

Levesque's lawyer, Bernard Kubetz, said Tuesday he was disappointed in the ruling. "I think it's an unreasonable, narrow interpretation of the facts and the law."

He said Fox portrayed "a public servant with an outstanding reputation as someone who acted foolishly and thoughtlessly, which was totally false."

[snip]
But failure to investigate before publishing, "even when a reasonably prudent person would have done so, is not sufficient to establish reckless disregard," Hornby concluded.

A reasonable jury would not find clear and convincing evidence of actual malice, the judge wrote. Proof of malice is higher for public officials such as Levesque. "The First Amendment protects journalists even when they are gullible," Hornby wrote.

Levesque and Kubetz said they would study the ruling before deciding whether to appeal. A spokesman for FOX who chose to remain anonymous said FOX was happy with the ruling.

So the bar is lowered further on journalism-USA, thanks again to FOX News.