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MSNBC and Rachel Maddow have again prevailed in a libel suit brought by Herring Networks, the owner of One America News Network (OAN). On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s ruling that Maddow’s statement about the Trump-friendly network isn’t actionable.
The suit came after The Daily Beast ran a story on July 22, 2019, entitled, “Trump’s New Favorite Channel Employs Kremlin-Paid Journalist.” That night, Maddow commented, “We literally learned today that that outlet the president is promoting shares staff with the Kremlin. I mean, what? … In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right-wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda. Their on-air U.S. politics reporter is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.”
The suit was dismissed in May 2020 upon the federal judge’s conclusion that a reasonable viewer wouldn’t take Maddow’s comment to mean that OAN is paid Russian propaganda, and at worst, it was merely her opinion.
The 9th Circuit notes Maddow’s hyperbolic rhetoric and comes to the same conclusion that she implied no assertion of objective fact.
As Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. writes, “In comparison to the undisputed facts that Maddow reports, the contested statement was particularly emphatic and unfounded: Maddow went from stating that OAN employs a Sputnik employee to stating that OAN reports Russian propaganda. A reasonable person would understand Maddow’s contested statement as an ‘obvious exaggeration,’ that is, as Maddow explains, ‘sandwiched between precise factual recitations’ of The Daily Beast article.”
Because MSNBC and Maddow prevailed on an anti-SLAPP motion, they were entitled to recover legal fees. The judge awarded the pair $250,000 over an effort to chill speech protected by the First Amendment.
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