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On Thursday, Lindsay Lohan filed court papers in New York in an effort to save a libel lawsuit against Fox News over a Feb. 4, 2014 segment of Sean Hannity‘s show discussing celebrities and drug use.
During the program in question, Hannity brought up the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, showed clips reporting the passing of other celebrities including Heath Ledger, Cory Monteith and Amy Winehouse, and threw discussion to a panel of guests.
Michelle Fields, one of the panelists, stated early in the segment that people in Hollywood don’t live in reality and have enablers. After another panelist Julie Roginsky said later in the show that “Dina Lohan is the biggest enabler in the world,” and Hannity wondered when Lohan, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus were going to wake up before tragedy hit them. But Fields pushed the blame onto the parents. “Lindsay Lohan’s mom is doing cocaine with her,” she said.
Lohan, through her attorneys, assert that the “overall theme of the show … was a totally irresponsible and malicious innuendo to the show’s viewers” that she “might become the next celebrity to join the obituary list.”
Since the lawsuit was filed in February, both Fox News and Fields have filed motions to dismiss. “Admitted cocaine user and long-time addict Lindsay and her mother, Dina, have sued … ” begins the memorandum from Fox News.
In court papers, the cable news network nods to reports of Lohan’s drug troubles and briefly describes an interview that the actress gave to Oprah Winfrey. Fields’ memo meanwhile talks about how “Lohan herself earlier had reported to her father Michael Lohan in a frantic tape-recorded conversation heard around the world that her mother, Dina, had done cocaine while in a car with her coming home from a mother-daughter night of clubbing in Manhattan.”
The above comments are only mentioned in footnotes, however, because the legal fight at this early stage isn’t concerned with whether or not the Lohans are taking turns sniffing schnee.
Instead, inferences of truth are drawn in plaintiffs’ favor, and the issue for the judge is whether the Lohans have pled sufficient facts supporting claims of defamation. As such, the defendants are for the most part leaving aside the “Lindsay Lohan’s mom is doing cocaine with her” comment (though Fox News raises issues about which corporate entities are being sued) to focus on the part of the lawsuit that alleges Dina Lohan has been defamed by being characterized as an “enabler.”
“To begin, the statement that someone is an ‘enabler’ — indeed, the ‘biggest enabler in the world’ — is a classic example of vigorous epithet and rhetorical hyperbole that is protected as opinion,” argues Fox.
Fields, who became a Fox News contributor in 2014 after time at The Daily Caller, goes even further in her own brief which argues that Lohan’s lawsuit is a “dubious and transparent attempt to intimidate the press and public commentators from discussing individuals who for years have injected themselves into the public spotlight regarding the very matters they now claim have harmed them.”
Her attorneys agree that calling parents of celebrity children “enablers” is an example of hyperbolic speech, “vague and unprovable,” and even discusses the panel format of Hannity’s show.
“Given the live setting and the nature of live debate, a reasonable viewer would understand that statements on the show are often made in the heat of discussion, clearly indicating that the speakers are expressing opinions, as opposed to laying out documented facts,” states her brief.
Last week, the Lohans responded with an attempt to amend the lawsuit and keep the claim over Dina being an enabler. It’s argued that it’s entirely reasonable for a viewer to understand that a factual statement about the mother’s immorality was given, and more, “The statements against Dina Lohan also imply possible criminal activity on her part — encouraging her daughter Lindsay Lohan to engage in illegal drug use and/or actually procuring cocaine for use by both her and her daughter, Lindsay Lohan.”
As for Hannity, he’s a co-defendant presently. Fox News says he should escape the lawsuit as he made no libelous statements, but Lohan’s lawyers don’t care. “It is of no significance that Sean Hannity himself did not utter any of the defamatory comments,” the plaintiffs write. “Sean Hannity presented the defamatory comments on his show which was cablecast and broadcast by the Fox Defendants. The presentation and broadcast of the defamatory comments constituted an act of publication of libel by the Fox Defendants, including Sean Hannity.”
The brief opposing dismissal also argues Hannity has “editorial control” over production, that since Hannity is taped rather than broadcast live, the host presenter had “ample opportunity to edit out” comments.
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