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Don’t always mistake what Tucker Carlson says for fact. That’s the conclusion more or less from a federal judge, who on Thursday dismissed a libel lawsuit from Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who infamously received money from the National Enquirer in connection with her alleged affair with Donald Trump.
On Dec. 10 on his show, Tucker Carlson nodded to Trump’s reported attempts to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into Joe Biden — efforts that would eventually get the President impeached — and tried an analogy.
“Remember the facts of the story, these are undisputed,” stated Carlson before referencing Trump’s alleged affairs with McDougal and 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.”
McDougal subsequently sued. She asserted that the allegation of extortion was absolutely false.
U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kayvyskocil is now dismissing McDougal’s slander claim upon deciding that Carlson hasn’t implied any inside knowledge about what was factual.
“In Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.(1990), the United States Supreme Court emphasized that statements, whether presented as fact or opinion, may be defamatory only where they state or imply a provably false assertion of fact,” writes the judge. “It has long been the law that simply invoking a criminal act or accusing a person of a crime does not transform an otherwise nonfactual statement into a factual assertion if the accusation, in light of the surrounding context, is ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ or where the record is ‘devoid of evidence’ that anyone thought a crime was actually committed. In particular, accusations of ‘extortion,’ ‘blackmail,’ and related crimes, such as the statements Mr. Carlson made here, are often construed as merely rhetorical hyperbole when they are not accompanied by additional specifics of the actions purportedly constituting the crime.”
Judge Kayvyskocil also recognizes the context — that the statements came in response to suggestions that Trump would be impeached.
“Such accusations of crimes also are unlikely to be defamatory when, as here, they are made in connection with debates on a matter of public or political importance,” the opinion later continues. “This is especially true in the context of commentary talk shows like the one at issue here, which often use ‘increasingly barbed’ language to address issues in the news.”
“The context in which the offending statements were made here make it abundantly clear that Mr. Carlson was not accusing Ms. McDougal of actually committing a crime,” adds the judge. “As a result, his statements are not actionable.”
A Fox News spokesperson comments, “Karen McDougal’s lawsuit attempted to silence spirited opinion commentary on matters of public concern. The court today held that the First Amendment plainly prohibits such efforts to stifle free speech. The decision is a victory not just for FOX News Media, but for all defenders of the First Amendment.”
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