Fox News Channel and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, are being sued by a Washington State nonprofit which says it aired false information about the coronavirus allowing it to spread widely in the United States.
A 10-page complaint was filed on Thursday in King County court by an organization known as the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE).
The network is accused of ‘willfully and maliciously’ engaging in a ‘campaign of deception and omission regarding the danger of the international proliferation of the novel coronavirus.’
Fox News released a statement through its lawyer, Lily Fu Claffee, who said: ‘Wrong on the facts, frivolous on the law.
Rupert Murdoch (center), the owner of Fox News Channel, has been named in a lawsuit filed in Washington State accusing his network of downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus. Murdoch is seen with his sons Lachlan (left) and James (right) in this undated file photo
‘We will defend vigorously and seek sanctions as appropriate.’
The lawsuit specifically mentions two Fox hosts – Sean Hannity and Trish Regan – who ‘acted in bad faith to willfully and maliciously disseminate false information denying and minimizing the danger posed by the spread of the novel conavirus…’
The lawsuit, whose filing was first reported by the Times of San Diego, continues: ‘As a result of this misinformation by this dominant subscription news network, a continuing falsehood has been fostered that the virus is a ‘hoax’, a ‘conspiracy,” and that it is no more dangerous than common influenza.’
The legal action seeks an injunction which would prevent Fox News from ‘interfering with reasonable and necessary measures to contain the virus by publishing further false and deceptive content.’
WASHLITE is also asking for ‘nominal damages’ and ‘reasonable attorneys’ fees.’
The lawsuit also lists as defendants AT&T TV and COMCAST, the large cable television providers that carry Fox News on their systems.
The lawsuit cites two Fox hosts – current Fox News star Sean Hannity (left) and former Fox Business Network personality Trish Regan (right) – who used the word ‘hoax’ in relation to the coronavirus. Hannity has denied calling the virus a ‘hoax’
Arthur West, the head of WASHLITE, told the Times that Fox News hosts are responsible for people not taking the social distancing instructions seriously enough at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
‘That’s the real evil of this type of programming,’ West said.
‘We believe it delayed and interfered with a prompt and adequate response to this coronavirus pandemic within the state of Washington.’
West rejected the notion that his organization was running afoul of the First Amendment right to free speech by attempting to silence a news outlet.
‘It’s like the theater thing,’ he said.
‘Up to the point where you get up in the theater and yell “Fire!” you can say whatever you want.
‘But when you get to the point where you are endangering the community – that transcends the limits of the First Amendment.’
When asked about Claffee’s threat to seek retribution against WASHLITE, West told The Daily Beast: ‘We are not afraid of the big bad Fox.’
West told The Daily Beast that he has initiated several lawsuits against government agencies.
‘I’ve gotten a number of six-figure awards… I have a collection of European sports cars,’ he told The Daily Beast.
‘I drive a Jaguar. I have three Mercedes 450 SLs and an Alfa Romeo.
‘My house overlooks the water, and it was purchased with money from the liquor control board.’
Regan (seen above during her February 28 broadcast on the Fox Business Network from a studio in New York City) has ‘parted ways’ with the company, it was announced last week. Regan controversially claimed that coronavirus was a ‘scam’ used to impeach Trump
He said he has managed to make a living off of the damages that he has been awarded in court, though denied that his lawsuit against Fox News is intended to generate publicity.
‘We’re as serious as a heart attack when we go into court,’ West said.
Hannity, the host of a nightly primetime show on Fox News, has come under fire for a segment from a March 9 broadcast in which he said: ‘This scaring the living hell out of people – I see it, again, as like, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.’
Last week, Fox Business Network, the sister channel of Fox News, ‘parted ways’ with Regan, who was host of a nightly primetime show.
Days earlier, her show was placed on hiatus less than a week after she said during an on-air segment that the coronavirus outbreak was a ‘scam’ invented as a way to ‘impeach’ President Trump.
Fox Business said Regan’s show was put on hiatus because it wanted to devote more primetime coverage to the coronavirus outbreak.
Regan released a statement through the network last week saying: ‘I have enjoyed my time at FOX and now intend to focus on my family during these troubled times.
‘I am grateful to my incredible team at FOX Business and for the many opportunities the network has provided me.
‘I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my career.’
Earlier this week dozens of journalism professors wrote a letter to Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch blasting Fox News’ coverage of the coronavirus pandemic
Hannity on Thursday rejected claims that he called the coronavirus a ‘hoax’ and that his show led viewers to not take the issue seriously enough.
‘Go to my web site and you’ll see irrefutable evidence that I have taken this seriously way before most in the media did,’ the Fox News host told Newsweek.
‘I warned in January that it was dangerous because it was highly contagious, but some people were asymptomatic, so it would spread quickly.’
Hannity doubled down on his claim that President Trump’s enemies in the media and within the Democratic Party used the coronavirus as an excuse to attack him.
‘Many of them did,’ Hannity said.
‘We are in the middle of the huge pandemic and where’s the Democrat saying, “You know, I didn’t agree with the travel ban at the time, but it was the right decision.”
‘Politics trumps truth in their world.’
Hannity continued: ‘It’s the same Democrats, media mob and liberal professors who are so lazy they won’t even look at what I’ve said about the virus.
‘They just go with their narrative. I never called it a “hoax.”
‘I said it was a hoax for them to be using it as a bludgeon on Trump. And they are.
‘[House Rep.] Adam Schiff and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi are talking about an investigation. Now?
‘In the middle of a pandemic?’
Hannity is referring to an announcement by Pelosi on Thursday in which she pledged to form a special bipartisan committee to oversee the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.
The primetime Fox News star was asked about a letter released on Thursday and signed by scores of journalism professors blasting the network.
The letter, which was addressed to Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan, reads: ‘Viewers of Fox News, including the president of the United States, have been regularly subjected to misinformation relayed by the network–false statements downplaying the prevalence of Covid-19 and its harms.’
The professors claimed Fox News offered ‘misleading recommendations of activities that people should undertake to protect themselves and others, including casual recommendations of untested drugs; false assessments of the value of measures urged upon the public by their elected political leadership and public health authorities.’
Other Fox News personalities also made statements that appeared to downplay the severity of coronavirus.
On March 6, Marc Siegel, a physician who frequently appears on the network said: ‘At worst – worst case scenario – it could be the flu.’
Jeanine Pirro, the former prosecutor who hosts Judge Jeanine on Fox News every Saturday, said on her March 7 broadcast: ‘All the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly [than the flu] doesn’t reflect reality.’
Meanwhile, the Murdochs are preparing for an onslaught of lawsuits related to the network’s coverage of coronavirus.
But The Daily Beast reports that they have no intention of settling.
‘The strategy is no settlements, even if it costs way more to fight the lawsuit and seek sanctions for ambulance-chasing lawyers,’ a source close to the Murdochs told The Daily Beast.
Megyn Kelly, a former Fox News host who was a lawyer before she entered television broadcasting, said her ex-boss has nothing to worry about.
‘Anyone filing such a lawsuit would be laughed out of court and likely sanctioned by the court for filing a frivolous lawsuit,’ Kelly tweeted.
‘But, whatever you need to tell yourself to stay occupied during quarantine…’