Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson does not have to verify the validity of his statements, nor does his audience expect him to, according to a lawyer for Fox News on Wednesday.
The controversial network is being hit with a defamation lawsuit from Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model, who made headlines after going public over a $150,000 payment that she received from the National Enquirer for details of her affair with Donald Trump. Fox News is asking U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Carlson said nothing that should be considered defamatory because it can’t be interpreted as stating actual facts. They also claim that McDougal can’t prove that Carlson spoke with malice intent.
Erin Murphy, the attorney for Fox News, argued that Carlson framed his statements as hypotheticals to promote the conversation and that a reasonable viewer would know that the show only brings up these topics to offer “provocative things that will help me think harder,” as opposed to verified news.
“What we’re talking about here, it’s not the front page of The New York Times,” Murphy explained. “It’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, which is a commentary show.”
Judge Vyskocil then posed a vital question to Murphy regarding Carlson’s failure to research facts before reporting, asking, “Does somebody in Mr. Carlson’s position have the duty of inquiry?” to which Murphy replied, “Not as to an actual malice standard. The Supreme Court could not be clearer.” She argued malice isn’t a negligence standard, and “failure to investigate” the truth of a statement doesn’t suffice, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In the lawsuit, McDougal is claiming that Carlson defamed her and accused her of a crime during a segment of Tucker Carlson Tonight, where he also discussed Trump’s other former mistress Stormy Daniels.⠀⠀
“Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion,” the conservative host said in the segment.⠀⠀⠀
During that same episode, Carlson said that he was recapping the “gist” of a New York Times story and assuming that “for the sake of argument” that things ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had said were true while noting it wasn’t wise to make such an assumption, but he also stated, “Remember the facts of the story; these are undisputed.”
McDougal’s lawyer Eric Bernstein pointed out the phrase “remember the facts” and stated that the moment in Carlson’s segment took a turn from commentary primarily for entertainment to reporting news.
“It’s a beat change if you’re an actor,” Bernstein argued. “You can even see it on his face. He gets serious. He’s not being dramatic.”