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Court Won't Reinstate OAN Defamation Complaint Against MSNBC's Rachel Maddow

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow during an interview Aug. 20, 2020
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow (Image credit: MSNBC)

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's dismissal of a defamation suit filed by One America News Network (OAN) against MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, saying no reasonable person could have taken Maddow's statement for objective fact.

That means OAN is on the hook for a reported $150,000-plus sin attorneys fees and court costs.

Maddow's June 2019 statement on The Rachel Maddow Show--she was reporting/commenting on a Daily Beast story about Kristian Rouz, an OAN employee who also freelanced for Russian government-funded Sputnik TV--was that OAN “really literally is paid Russian propaganda.”

OAN owner Herring Network Inc. had argued that the statement was false, that people could reasonably conclude it was not hyperbole even if that were not the intent, and that such a statement was harmful to an "American news agency" like OAN.

Also Read: Herring Files Brief in Defamation Suit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed Herring's complaint "with prejudice," meaning it can't refile.

The court said that Herring had relied on evidence outside its complaint to argue that California's Anti-SLAPP statute did not prevent its defamation suit.

Anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) laws are meant to prevent people from using lawsuits or threats of lawsuits to suppress free speech.

In dismissing the suit, the courts said Maddow's July 2019 statement was "well within the bounds of protected speech under the First Amendment."

The court said that, in context, the statement was "an obvious exaggeration, cushioned within an undisputed news story. The statement could not reasonably be understood to imply an assertion of objective fact, and therefore, did not amount to defamation."

The court also held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the suit without allowing Herring to amend it, adding that Herring didn't ask to amend it, and at any rate, sounding a Star Trek-like note, "amendment would have been futile."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.