Fox defeats first amendment lawsuit relating to COVID-19 news coverage
Clients Fox Corporation
Jones Day successfully defended Fox Corporation and Fox News in a First Amendment lawsuit filed in state court in Seattle, Washington in April 2020. Plaintiff WashLITE, a Washington non-profit organization, alleged that in February and March 2020, hosts and guests on Fox News programs made statements that falsely described the coronavirus as a hoax and minimized the threat of the virus. The plaintiff alleged that these representations caused residents of Washington to delay taking appropriate action to protect themselves and others, which resulted in negative health and economic consequences. The plaintiff sought treble damages under the state's consumer protection statute, as well as orders (i) enjoining Fox from televising any misinformation about COVID-19; and (ii) directing Fox to issue specific retractions of the challenged statements.
Because these allegations attacked its credibility and First Amendment rights, Fox moved swiftly to defend and defeat the claims. Only eight days after WashLITE filed its amended complaint, Jones Day filed a motion to dismiss. In the briefing, Jones Day demonstrated that the plaintiff had distorted the statements it challenged, while ignoring Fox News' reporting on the risks of the virus. But even taking the plaintiff's allegations at face value, the challenged reporting was protected by the First Amendment because it constituted core political speech on a matter of public concern. Despite the plaintiff's asserted omniscience and certitude, the bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment is that the remedy for alleged false speech is more speech not government censorship of ideas that society, or some segment of it, finds disagreeable.
The court heard oral argument by Zoom conference on May 21, and issued its order on May 27. Adopting all of Fox's First Amendment arguments, the court granted the motion to dismiss.
Washington League for Increased Transparency & Ethics v. Fox Corp., et al., No. 20-2-07428-4 (Sup. Ct. King Cty., Wash.)