A Seattle judge has dismissed a lawsuit from a little-known advocacy organization that hoped to bar Fox News Channel from transmitting its popular primetime opinion programs to its large cable-news audience.
The Washington state group known as the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, or WASHLITE, filed a suit in Superior Court of Washington State in April, calling for an injunction that would keep Fox News from "publishing further and false and deceptive content" about the coronavirus pandemic. Several Fox News opinion hosts in prior weeks questioned the level of the coronavirus threat, with former Fox Business Network anchor Trish Regan losing her position at the company after hosting a segment with graphics that read "Coronavirus Impeachment Scam" while suggesting liberals were overstating the danger of the contagion.
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WASHLITE argued in its initial filing that Fox News was subject to established protections for consumers against false information and put forth the notion that deceptive or unfair acts may be enjoined under statutes in Washington state.
In an eight-page document, however, Superior Court Judge Brian McDonald said WASHLITE had failed to establish a case, noting that its "assertions do not hold up to scrutiny." He added: "WASHLITE's professed goal in this lawsuit – to ensure that the public receives accurate information about the coronavirus and COVID-19 – is laudable." But its argument of using a consumer protection act, he said, "runs afoul of the protections of the First Amendment."
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Fox News expressed satisfaction at the outcome. "Using a false portrayal of Fox News Channel's commentary, WASHLITE attempted to silence a national news organization to settle a partisan grievance," Fox News said in a statement. "This was not only wrong, but contemptuous of the foundation of free speech and we are both pleased the court dismissed this frivolous case and grateful to the First Amendment community that rallied to our side."
Catherine Clark, an attorney representing WASHLITE, said that "an appeal will be filed within the designated appeal period," but declined to elaborate.
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The case even drew the attention of Fox News rivals, who came to the network's defense in an amicus brief. The Internet and Television Association, a trade organization that represents CNN parent WarnerMedia and MSNBC overseer NBCUniversal, the suit "asserted that news providers do not enjoy First Amendment protection when they distribute their programming over a cable television system. That radical proposition is plainly wrong."