Politics - News Analysis
REPORT: Fox Terrified They Might Be Sued Out of Existence By Families of the Dead — Those Who Heard ‘Hoax’
Vanity Fair’s invaluable Gabriel Sherman, who seems to specialize in breaking down Fox News and all its issues (which someone could write, and perhaps should write, a doctoral dissertation upon), told Joy Reid of MSNBC (another invaluable reporter) that Fox is terrified that they’ll get sued over their original coverage of Covid-19 as a hoax.
We have some of the transcripts from The Intellectualist:
We saw Trish Regan, who had a show on Fox Business, come out and essentially just label it all a fraud. She’s now no longer there… You’ve had Fox anchors who are going, or as likely as anyone who is on this panel to know someone who gets sick with COVID-19. It’s interesting to have to watch them have to confront reality …They can’t cover for Trump on this .. How are they handling it?
And now Gabriele drops the bomb:
When I’ve been talking to Fox insiders over the last few days, there’s a real concern inside the network that their early downplaying of the coronavirus actually exposes Fox News to potential legal action by viewers who maybe were misled and actually have died from this. I’ve heard Trish Regan’s being taken off the air is, you know, reflective of this concern that Fox News is in big trouble by downplaying this virus and The New York Times reported days ago that the Murdoch family was privately taking the coronavirus seriously. The Murdochs, of course, own Fox News. So, they were taken personal steps to protect themselves while anchors like Trish Regan and Sean Hannity were telling viewers that it’s a hoax and putting themselves in potentially mortal danger. So I think this is a case where Fox’s coverage, if it actually winds up being proved that people died because of it, this is a new terrain in terms of Fox being possibly held liable for their actions.
Let me put my lawyer hat on here for a couple of observations. First, I have never heard of a news organization sued for giving the wrong information. That doesn’t mean it’s never been done, but it’s not at all common. That being said, I am sure that Fox has lawyers much smarter than me, and I am sure they have been advising Murdoch on this or they wouldn’t be worried.
A couple of thoughts hit me just as a flyby. The only people with a real case that could succeed would be those families whose loved ones (or victims that got very sick) would be those who contracted the disease very early. In the last few weeks, it has become clear to everyone that there is a real problem, even with Trish Regan’s firing.
Second, there would have to be a whole lot of proof that the victim watched Fox News and used its coverage as justification for not taking precautions. One or two family members saying that he or she did watch and said something won’t do it.
Third, there would have to be some real diabolical evidence against Fox that would take the reporting beyond mere “negligence” and take it up to “reckless” or intentional. The plaintiffs would need evidence in the form of memos or something stating, “play this down,” say it’s a “hoax,” “blame the mainstream media,” all “so that we can keep Trump’s ratings up” and “keep the economy going,” that type of thing.
So, if you had the perfect early plaintiff, who watched Fox news religiously and did something stupid because “this is all Democratic bullshit because I heard,” and they had proof that this was all done to help Trump or something to that effect, well …
Then the amount of money could be near limitless. Because when one is dealing with recklessness or intentional behaviors, courts allow for “punitive damages,” which are damages that have nothing to do with the plaintiff’s loss. They are damages made to punish an entity so as not to do it again. And an entity with as much money as Fox, and a family like the Murdochs, it would take one hell of a lot of money to “punish” Fox into improving their behavior. A LOT of money.
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