Judge Dismisses OAN Defamation Lawsuit Against Maddow, MSNBC

May 23, 2020 Updated: May 25, 2020

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by One America News Network (OAN) against Rachel Maddow and her employer, MSNBC.

The complaint alleged Maddow targeted OAN one week after OAN President Charles Herring registered his objection to Comcast, MSNBC’s parent company, for refusing to carry his network.

Maddow claimed on-air that OAN “really, literally, is paid Russian propaganda.”

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant, appointed by former President Barack Obama, ruled that Maddow’s statement was an opinion.

“Considering the totality of the circumstances—including the general context of the statements, the specific context of the statements, and the statements’ susceptibility of being proven true or false—a reasonable fact-finder could only conclude that the statement was one of opinion, not fact,” she wrote (pdf).

According to California defamation law, the elements of a defamation claim are: publication of a statement of fact that is false, unprivileged, has a natural tendency to injure or cause “special damage,” and the defendant’s fault in publishing the statement amounted to at least negligence.

Maddow was speaking about a story about Kristian Rouz, an OAN employee who had articles published by Russian-owned Sputnik. OAN said Rouz was a freelancer who received $40 from Sputnik if the outlet accepted his articles.

Bashant acknowledged Maddow used the word “literally.” But the MSNBC host “had inserted her own colorful commentary into and throughout the segment, laughing, expressing her dismay (i.e., saying ‘I mean, what?’) and calling the segment a ‘sparkly story’ and one we must ‘take in stride,'” the judge wrote on May 22.

“For her to exaggerate the facts and call OAN Russian propaganda was consistent with her tone up to that point, and the Court finds a reasonable viewer would not take the statement as factual given this context. The context of Maddow’s statement shows reasonable viewers would consider the contested statement to be her opinion,” she added.

In a statement sent to The Epoch Times, OAN said the statement in question was “demonstrably false,” considering the network is owned by the Herring family in California and neither the Herrings nor OAN receive money from the Russian government.

“The court’s finding that no reasonable person could conclude that Maddow’s statement was one of fact is incorrect. Herring Networks plans to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,” the statement said.

Amnon Siegel, a counsel for Herring Networks, said the judge “did not squarely address the fact that Maddow prefaced her false statement with ‘really literally,’ which is used to emphasize the truth of a statement.”

“In fact, the court’s decision recognizes that Maddow’s statement that OAN is paid Russian propaganda is capable of being proven false. And it is, in fact, false,” he said. “That should have been enough for the court to deny the motion and allow a jury to decide the issue.”

Maddow is known for repeatedly making unsubstantiated claims about President Donald Trump, his campaign, and their purported links with Russia. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team couldn’t establish any collusion between Trump or his campaign and Russian actors.

MSNBC declined to comment on the ruling.

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