Fox News knew they spread lies. Enough to prove actual malice?

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People pass by a promo of Fox News host Tucker Carlson on the News Corporation building in New York, U.S., March 13, 2019. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters.

Dozens of incriminating texts and email chains between leadership and top anchors at Fox News were revealed this week as part of the defamation lawsuit Dominion Voting Systems brought against the news station.

The filings show that Fox hosts and executives knew former President Donald Trump had lost the 2020 election and that claims of voter fraud were false. But they promoted this narrative on-air because it was what their audience wanted and it was good for ratings. 

This is a rare case because of the implications it could have on the journalism world. Prior to this, the Supreme Court’s 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan ruling established a high baseline to win libel and defamation cases. They said the prosecution has to show that the news station or journalist deliberately made false statements with a reckless disregard for the truth. Or actual malice. 

The scope of Dominion’s lawsuit shows that Fox News kept repeating conspiracies they knew were false over an extended period of time. But was it actual malice? 

Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. And special guest RonNell Andersen Jones, professor of law at the University of Utah and an affiliated fellow at the Yale Law School Information Society Project, weighs in on the arguments from both sides. 

Plus, a middle school girl in Lewisville, Texas, was punished for how she processed her fear of a potential school shooting. She heard a classmate say, “Don’t come to school tomorrow,” and texted her friends out of concern. Twenty minutes later, she told her mother. 

When school officials looked into the situation, they determined there were no threats to the school. But they also decided that the student who texted her friends made false accusations about school safety. They punished her with a three-day suspension, and said she would finish eighth grade at an alternative disciplinary school. Though that punishment was later scaled back. 

Was this a rumor or just a frightened teenager? And, in an era where school shootings have become more common, how should students and school officials handle moments like this?

Special guests Talia Richman, staff writer at the Dallas Morning News, discusses her recent article about the incident, “How a Texas girl scared of school shootings was punished,” alongside Lisa Youngblood, the student’s mother.




David Greene