Former Playboy model and Trump mistress Karen McDougal’s libel lawsuit against Tucker Carlson was dismissed yesterday, partly because the Trump-appointed judge bought Fox News’ argument that no reasonable person would consider Carlson ia trustworthy source of truth.
You may recall that Fox made that extraordinary claim about its own prime time news host in June when it moved to have McDougal’s claim against Carlson dismissed. Courthouse News has a summary of what Carlson said about McDougal:
“Remember the facts of the story; these are undisputed,” Fox News personality Tucker Carlson told his 2.8 million viewers in 2018, before labeling former Playboy model Karen McDougal as a presidential extortionist.
“Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money,” Carlson declared, as the screen flashed photographs of Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. “Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion. Yet for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom.”
In reality, Carlson got his “undisputed facts” wrong, as Erik Wemple explained: McDougal “didn’t 'approach Donald Trump'; through an attorney, she approached American Media Inc., whose holdings included the National Enquirer; AMI paid McDougal $150,000 for the rights to the story as well as columns on fitness. Then the company essentially buried the story. Trump and his then-attorney, Michael Cohen, were coordinating the whole 'catch and kill' operation with AMI executive David Pecker."
In June, Fox argued that no “reasonable viewer” would expect the facts from Carlson, as The Hollywood Reporter reported then (my emphases added):
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.
Yesterday, Trump-appointed Judge Vyskocil agreed with Fox:
From Vyskocil’s opinion:
[In] the context of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Court finds that Mr. Carlson’s invocation of “extortion” against Ms. McDougal is nonactionable hyperbole, intended to frame the debate in the guest commentator segment that followed Mr. Carlson’s soliloquy. As Defendant notes, Mr. Carlson himself aims to “challenge political correctness and media bias.” This “general tenor” of the show should then inform a viewer that he is not “stating actual facts” about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.” … Given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ …
In other words, no reasonable viewer would believe what Carlson says, the judge ruled. But the sad thing is, viewers do. And Fox News, itself, describes the show as “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think” on its webpage. The show’s webpage also 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.”
(Carlson image via screen grab)
A journalist engaged to investigate the environmental effects of a Monsanto plant in the Tampa area found chemicals in the milk of local dairy farms. Her story was never aired after she refused to edit out the bad bits and she sued. The local court’s decision in her favour was overthrown by the Florida Appeals Court on the grounds that Fox(not)News was infotainment not news.