In defending a libel suit from Karen McDougal, Fox News claimed that when Tucker Carlson said “the facts” are “undisputed” that McDougal committed extortion, nobody should have believed him.
In December, McDougal, the former Playboy model who has said she had an affair with Trump before he was elected, sued Fox News over Carlson’s allegation. Today, Fox moved to have the suit dismissed.
From The Hollywood Reporter (emphases added):
McDougal claims Carlson defamed her and accused her of a crime in a segment that also discussed Stormy Daniels. Here's what Carlson said that she takes issue with: "Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money. Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion."
To complicate matters, he also earlier in the broadcast said that he was recapping the "gist" of a New York Times story and assuming "for the sake of argument" that things ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had said were true while noting it wasn't wise to make such an assumption, but he also stated, "Remember the facts of the story; these are undisputed."
Fox News wants U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil to toss the complaint, arguing both that nothing Carlson said is defamatory because it can't be interpreted as stating actual facts and that McDougal can't prove he acted with actual malice, which she must to succeed on her claims because she's a public figure.
Fox News' attorney Erin Murphy argued that Carlson repeatedly couched his statements as hypotheticals to promote conversation and that a reasonable viewer would know his show offers "provocative things that will help me think harder," as opposed to straight news.
Journalist Frank Runyeon expands on Fox's "don't believe what we say" defense:
Wow: @FoxNews just told a federal judge @TuckerCarlson did not slander fmr Playmate Karen McDougal because: “Would a reasonable viewer be coming here and thinking this is where I’m going to be hearing the news of the day?” @Law360— Frank G. Runyeon (@frankrunyeon) June 17, 2020
Legal note: Slander requires a false statement of fact. Opinion is speech protected by the First Amendment. This is where the @FoxNews lawyer was going with this.— Frank G. Runyeon (@frankrunyeon) June 17, 2020
And this juxtaposed gem: “It's not the front page of @nytimes. It’s @TuckerCarlson Tonight. It is a commentary show,” Murphy said of the top @FoxNews host. “Where you’re going to hear opinion and spirited debate.” @Law360— Frank G. Runyeon (@frankrunyeon) June 17, 2020
The problem for Fox is that Carlson’s show suggests otherwise. Its web page calls the show “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think” and describes Carlson as a news guy: “Tucker founded and acted as editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, a political news website he launched in 2010.”
The judge has reserved decision.
(H/T Richard W.)
(Carlson image via screen grab)