Fox News Lawsuit Could Have Profound Impact On Free Speech In America

( In a column at Reason on Monday, writer Elizabeth Nolan Brown warns that free speech supporters should be wary of the numerous lawsuits against news outlets and right-wing websites over their reporting on 2020 election fraud.

Brown cites a recent New York Times article headlined “First Amendment Scholars Want to See the Media Lose These Cases” about the defamation lawsuits filed against Fox News, One America News, Project Veritas, and right-leaning websites like the Gateway Pundit over claims that the outlets intentionally spread false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election and profited off the claims.

As former Alaska governor Sarah Palin found out, proving malice against a news outlet isn’t easy because the bar is so high. The 1964 Supreme Court ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan gave journalists broad legal immunity.

Brown argues that being able to prove in court that these outlets knew that the election-fraud claims they reported on were false “is a tall order.”

But if the courts rule against these news outlets, Brown explains, that would likely “weaken press protections across the board.”

Brown points out that several lawyers and politicians, including then-President Donald Trump, were making claims of election fraud, so naturally, media outlets found it newsworthy to report on the claims.

This is the very argument Fox News is making in court. The story of election fraud was newsworthy so Fox had a right to cover it as news. And having guests who promoted the fraud claims on its opinion shows is what Fox describes as part of the “uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate on matters of public concern.”

Brown agrees with Fox’s defense, arguing that whether or not people like the way Fox News or other outlets covered the claims of election fraud, it was in the public interest to report on it.

She also warns that supporters of free speech shouldn’t want the courts deciding what reporting or opinions the public is allowed to hear. Brown said whether or not you have sympathy for those being sued, a loss in court for any of them “could have ramifications far beyond these specific cases and outlets.”